It is odd how people self-define: you think of them as teachers, factory workers, moms and dads, police; whatever, what they do, what their relationship is to you. Larson had a panel where dogs introduced themselves, (Fifi-Terror-To-Squirrels), and that is as true of people as it is a keen perception that our pets may have a wholly different view of who they are in their relationship.
What I have found is that my grandfather thought of himself as something of a poet, an artíste, an unrecognized and undervalued talent, unknown to humanity. He also seems to think that he was a Minor Prophet, someone who had been just past the edge and who could tell you what was what.
Still, someone should not be defined by a simple word. A Dentist may work on teeth all day, but he may also be a fly fisherman, or an avid hockey fan, something you never know as his patient. Often, more than just the good is interred with ones bones – the who-you-are also follows you down to the dirt. Your hopes, your work, your being is lost to all time, and the wind and rain obscure your name, time eats the very stone that serves as a bookmark to your life, and the grass overgrows your tomb.
My grandfather was important to me, but of course we had the common enemy of my parents. Parents want to be something more to their children, and are often frustrated from this purpose by the needs of the family versus the wants, through having to be the bad guy, and from their own limitations as people. Now that my children are growing up, I understand my own mother’s frustration with me. But, then, when I was small, my grandfather seemed so amazed with everything, as if he could see new the old things of life through my eyes. We bonded in a way that I never have with anyone else.
When my dad died, I was the closest kid, and therefore got the most work cleaning the house, moving mom to the retirement center, selling off the parts of their life that we kids didn’t want and that she couldn’t take with her. And thus it was that I came upon something that few people ever get – my mother had carried with her, through who knows how many moves, my grandfather, intact in a pile of paper stuffed in a DuPont Explosives Hi-Velocity Seismograph Gelatin box.
That he had such a life, that he could fold it like some odd origami into a box older than he was by decades, was a mystery, as was the content itself – odd clippings from newspapers, later from the old web, poems on bar napkins and other pieces of found paper, simple thought images – “iridescent raindrops on a black lake of nonbeing”; what prompted him to write that? Why did it never lead to anything else?
It was no wonder that mom never did anything with it, or grampa himself, for that matter, I thought. “How do you untangle this mess?” was the first thing I said when I opened the box in the attic. But, the more I dug into it, the more I saw that grampa had a very distinct plan and purpose to how his “box of crap” was packed, and the more did I come to understand why my life had progressed as it had, so that I could come upon this material at the exact right time in my life.
“I would like to smith my words together so well that in 500 years they will argue about whether this man existed, or was this not rather the work of that man, and in 2,500 years they can fight about if there really was a man named Andrew, or was that just part of the myth? Like as not, I will be spread on the wind and lost, as the old gods did when they died, all my efforts to find the right words for naught.”
It is like the poet said, “There are days, there are days, and there are days between.” For Grampa, this meant that there are really great days, and really bad days, and then there are the bulk of your days, the so-so ones, no ecstasy, and no agony. For someone looking at the day to day life of their grandfather, knowing how their life went in the “days between” is warm, maybe very fulfilling in a way.
But, Grampa was right – he had days, and he had days, and he also had an “acuity of perception” which allowed, perhaps forced him to capture these days in word-pictures. Somewhere, early on, he realized that he was maybe going to have one really great year, maybe one really fucked up year, and then his fill of the neither bad or good years. And, he knew that the good, the bad, and the just plain awful, well, they wouldn’t be, as he would say, a “year of orgasm and a year of being dragged through cactus”. No, some days the angels would sing, some day the Dire Wolf would collect his dues.
What I have tried to do is to capture the fruit of these years in pages that follow, tried to reconstruct what he called his “asequential, nonlinear experience”, if only for the purpose of my own understanding. What follows is the picture I was able to resolve.