Sunday, July 6, 2008

My grandpa

I am the eldest of three grandchildren. Being the eldest, I had a little more time with my grandfather than my younger cousins did. I called him "Papa", and he doted on me. He didn't play favourites after the other two came along; Papa always gave special time to all three of us and treated us all the same. Even so, I've always felt special to him. Not in a spoiled, bratty sort of way, but just special; when Papa made jokes, it was always me he winked at. He didn't talk stupid to me, the way people do to small children. He talked stupid to my cousins, but he always talked to me like I was an adult. He made me feel smart.

My youngest cousin, Michael, drowned when I was a girl, and my family blamed me for it. It took a long time, but eventually my relationship with Papa changed; I loved him, but when I got old enough to realize he blamed me for something that should never have been my fault, blamed me for something that was a mistake of his own daughter and not me at all, I started to feel differently about him. I didn't feel special or smart, I felt discardable. As such, I have not been close to my Papa in a number of years and spent several years estranged from my entire family.

A few years ago my grandparents got in touch with my mom and, by extension, me. My grandmother asked me back then if there was anything I wanted when they died; they have all manner of collectible things that my mom's sisters have been dividing up for years, planning for their death. I wanted Papa's dog-tags. He was in the Army, and I remember them so clearly. I remember being young and sitting in his lap while he read or watched TV and playing with the dog-tags around his neck listening to the sound they made when they clanked together. I remember begging him to take them off so I could wear them around the house; he always told me no, told me they never came off.

Papa retired from the Army years ago, long after I was interested in wearing his dog-tags. So when my grandmother offered me anything I wanted, that's what I chose. She sent me one of them, in a box. He has the other still, but I've got one, and I'm wearing it on a chain around my neck. I remember what life was like before my cousin drowned, before my family was angry at me for so many years; a time when I was still the oldest, still the smartest and most clever.

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