It’s funny, earlier today (while laid over at the Logan airport) I read in Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things: “We owe it to each other to tell stories.”
Tonight, my parents and I went to visit my grandpa in the nursing home where he’s recuperating from his latest foot infection. I hadn’t seen him since I was last home in July.
But this time when we visited him, on this miserably rainy November night, there was a wildness about him I’d never seen. Almost a joyous desperation. He looked more wasted away than I’d ever seen him, his hands skeletal and purple with blood clots. He almost immediately launched into a vicious bout of tale-telling–about his time as a lieutenant in World War II, about starting his own business after the war.
He seemed almost possessed by his memories. The narratives had little flow as he bounced from boast to unrelated fact to digression. He said he wants me to write a book about his life. I said that I don’t have the wherewithal to write a whole book. What I really meant is, I’m not patient enough to listen. And, that his stories aren’t the most interesting in the world (he spent most of the war in Long Island, after all).
But I (like my grandfather) digress. What I mean to say is, he had seemed to become suddenly and acutely aware of his own mortality. For him, it seems, he needs to tell stories to fling his legacy out into the future, to gather the jumbled threads of 87 years on Earth and weave them into a coherent, lasting something.
My grandfather knows that he is old, very old.
My mom suggested that he get a tape recorder to preserve all these stories–his hands are too arthritic to write–but I don’t think that’s what he wants. I think he wants someone to listen to him. A human thing, there at his knee, to hear what he has to say and to marvel in it as he marvels in himself.
Tonight, for the first time, I really saw grandpa as a person, flesh and blood and soul and not just diatribes and wrinkles. He’s old, and he’s frightened. I can’t imagine how terrifying it must be.
And he wants to tell stories. His stories.