Thursday, February 19, 2009


My grandparents’ house is a fascinating place. Seemingly out of time, almost everything in it is 25 years old or older, except for a cable box purchased in anticipation of the end of analog broadcasts. The refrigerator, stove, bedrooms and dining room remain similar as I have always remembered. An era where radios were furniture with lamps and magazines on an oak top preserved like an interactive protest against time itself. The record player is over thirty years old yet still contains the original receipt and warranty inside. My grandfather passed away eleven years ago and much of the house has stopped since his passing. Storage boxes surround the foot of his bed, stacked in haphazard fashion, but his ashtray is beside the bed next to the same brown rectangular clock, which has kept time for decades. Occasionally, I take a nap or sleep in the bed and I always feel his smell and aura around me.

Recently, I brought my two little ones to visit Great Grandma. Although the house is too small for their enthusiasm, they seem to enjoy it tremendously. There are always cookies in the kitchen, chips in the living room and ice cream in the freezer. Upon arriving, my son, Shane was intent on breaking into the door leading to the attic steps, an endeavor attempted many times by yours truly when I was his age. The door is a pathway to the past, a means to access the unknown somethings which connect us through time. Shane pulled away the boxes blocking the door, intent on finding a box of toys I’d found a year earlier. The box contained toys from my childhood, things I probably played with while the rest of the world was jiving to the Bee Gees.

Shane dived in and pulled out a Fisher Price toy T.V. It played scrolling pictures to “London Bridges” and “Row Your Boat.” Winding the tuning knob caused the pictures to move and the music to play. He was fascinated by this primitive music box, wondering how the knob he turned could cause the music to play. While he played with it, I realized I knew basically how the toy worked. Spring, rubber band and torque? I wasn’t sure if I was right but at least I had an explanation. I have no idea how “Tickle Me Elmo” works and part of me never wants to. My toys from thirty years ago captivated him as he went back to the attic steps for another. He pulled out a Tonka Toys tractor with a working loader and bucket. Shane asked how it worked and my Dad and I demonstrated the levers which lifted the loader and emptied the bucket. He was happy with the answer, which is better than I could hope to describe how the DVD player operates. His excavation continued from the box and around the house, resulting in wood nesting puzzles, a hand-made cloth book and a magnifying glass. Eventually, he came across a metal bar with two wheels in the front and back.
“What’s that, Daddy?”
“It’s a car.”
“No it’s not,” said Dad. “That’s a pulley for a barn door.”
“Granddad always said it was a car.”

A pulley pulls the curtain open to a ballet of memories. A music box is the key to the universe twirling in the mind. Bouncing on the bed, ring around the rosie, hiding under covers afraid of monsters – and the monsters attack! A doll that opens its eyes if you love it that much. An imagination filled with a hug, a kiss and nursery rhymes.

A baby grandfather clock sits on the fireplace mantle. It hasn’t chimed in years but I hear its echo now. Grandma had let it go quiet, the quarter hour signal silenced. White ceiling paint peels above it, an implicit signal of the breaking of the past, a desire not to fix, but leave behind. She will be ninety-one this year and longs for a world that was probably just as corrupt, but a little easier to believe in. Connected to my Grandfather in an eternal, ethereal bond, which one has with a true love, a feeling that flows through time and space, past and future. The instinct which bonds us with one other, the one we’re supposed to spend time with. A decade is a long time to wait for a connection, a signal that the little something called love lasts forever.

The echo of the clock became a noise. Grandma found a new energy as my little two year old, Romana, pulled her from room to room, bouncing on the beds with gleeful abandon. Shane is grabbing cookies, taking marshmallows from the stovetop and somersaulting on the carpet. The stagnant clock rewinds, cracks in the ceiling are sealed as the house becomes filled with smiles and laughter. I could smell my grandfather’s pipe in the air. What was old is eternally new, present and alive. I laid back in his chair, taking in the timeslip as I had many times since his passing. Transcending time is like watching a waterfall. It flows with metronome momentum, occurring continually throughout the conscious. These are the places we’re meant to be at because we’ve always been there, the places that are pure as the first breath we take.

It is still close to impossible for me to picture Grandma at ninety-one. To me, she is still the person I could see gazing out of the kitchen window, washing dishes, watching me play in the sandbox or mow the lawn with Grandpa. The person who gave me a bowl of vanilla ice cream with chocolate on top and played Rummy and Pinochle with me for hours was the same person that Saturday. Time may be cruel but it also can be kind, providing mirror-flashes of faces un-aged and bodies still vibrant. We are only as old as the images of ourselves reflected in our subconscious. I smelled the pipe tobacco of Grandpa. Maybe it’s real, maybe it’s not but I relished it just the same. I think Grandma felt it too, that day. I’ve had this feeling before, a sense of a distant world gone by seeping into the present, almost always at the farm but there are other waterfalls flowing into the river of reality but the only one I can verify is the farm I grew up on. There are places and moments that put you out of time, into a spectrum wider than existence itself. These instincts could be chalked up to déjà vu, divine intervention or delusions of grandeur. I cannot claim to know, only that I suspect many of us have these experiences as well. It’s our choice if we accept them or bury them inside.

As I left the farmhouse, I looked across the lake and inhaled the crisp air. It felt old, new yet changing and evolving. Simultaneously, I felt like I was in 1959, 1969, 1979, 1989, 1999 and 2009 and all the years in-between. The universe is intertwined in ways so intricate we can barely comprehend them in our wildest fantasies. I can take my Fisher Price T.V., rewind the boat and float gently down the stream. My Grandma experiences this every day when she thinks about her life spent with Grandpa, the family and friends who are passed on, yet through the power of memory they continue to breathe. Like artifacts in a museum on display, memories are an idolization of the past, a pretense of the present and a portent of the future. Although she is often alone, I hope Grandma is in good company with her past, greeting each new day with a desire that the present isn’t so dire and the future gives her a hug when they say goodbye. As she falls asleep in her rocking chair, Granddad is still there smoking his pipe and making sure she is all right. It is the comfort of a life well led and loved which overcomes the void, the feeling that you’re never really alone as long as someone loves you throughout eternity.

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