My grandfather held us on his lap and taught us to drive before our feet could reach the pedals. He taught me to speak by carrying me around the house for hours, pointing at objects, repeating their sounds. He taught me to stop and look before I was old enough to pay attention. His office always smelled like rubber bands.
Most of you never met my Grandpa Peters, or if you did, it was after his mind had already begun to fold in on itself, camouflaging so much of what I loved in him. He was the smartest man I’ve ever met — a teacher, by profession and by nature. I’ve felt compelled in the past few days to try and explain him, to write it down and make sure someone is reading… he always wanted me to write everything down. I’m trying to listen.
He would insist that my white shoes were purple with so much conviction my small self actually believed I knew something he didn’t. He’d sit on the floor and let us knock him over again and again and again… we were exhausting, I’m sure. We’d pull his hair, tickle him, untie his shoe laces… he’d try to explain static electricity.
My grandfather loved to walk. I had the privilege of walking with him, often, and these journeys are the substance of my earliest and most vivid memories. He was a storyteller… he spoke to animals, conjured fairies, chatted with gangsters, and understood the whys of everything I questioned. He would explain life and God to me with relentless patience. He loved exceptionally well, and he loved this world without exception.
At night, his hands were possessed by the spirits of two friendly, tickling creatures… they would creep- boompee doompee doompadee doompdee -down the hall, across the floor, and up over the edge of my bed to tuck squealing, protesting me in. I must have been at least 7 or 8 when I realized that Nipper and Napper were not independent personalities, but simply another incarnation of his extraordinary imagination.
I’ve had many conversations in my life about belief – the pros and cons and power of the simple act of believing in something. Often, I’ve heard people say that when they discovered the things they believed in childhood weren’t necessarily true – the existence of Santa, Cinderella, etc. – they felt disheartened, disillusioned, betrayed. I don’t share this experience. For me, that same discovery was simple, undeniable proof of how truly and abundantly I was loved. Entire kingdoms were imagined in my honor, and for my betterment- that I might know what it felt like to grow up in a world that radiated magic.
My grandfather passed away last week. He was not well here, nor very happy… there are a thousand reasons to be glad for him… he’s whole again, somewhere, with the God he loved so much.
I am selfishly devastated, because I wanted to keep him.
The last time I sat and talked with my Grandpa, he told me about his uncle the trapeze artist, his dinner with Roy Disney, his first serious girlfriend. He wanted to know what I was planning to do with myself: was I planning to teach? Any new boys? He asked me what it would be like when I was sitting with my grandchild the way we were sitting then and I gave him some silly answer about space stations and holograms. The simple truth is, I’ll be telling her, or him, about Sammy the Squirrel and Freddy the Fox, who live in the trees at West Valley College, or explaining the stock market, or Nipping and Napping her till she laughs herself to sleep, or helping her see the fairies in the bushes on the walks we take.
Or, most likely, I’ll be telling her about her great-grandfather: how he held me on his lap and taught me to drive before my feet could reach the pedals, taught me to speak by carrying me around the house for hours, pointing at objects, repeating the sounds.
I’ll tell her how very much I loved him, and how very wonderfully I was loved.