18 October 2013

A Letter To My Grandfather In October

I remembered how at your funeral there was a place in your casket where notes could be placed; how we were encouraged to write something down; how I was instantly suspicious and how my mom had said, "Jennifer, come on."

Dear Gramps,


I can tell you that I have no idea where the year has gone and also that I cannot believe that it is only October, this year has been so long.

The Tigers are, again, teetering on the edge of an epic collapse. I know, I know; when you are teetering on that edge, you don't know if you're staring upon the brink of a disaster or an amazing story that you will tell your grandchildren about.  It's what you do when you're on that edge that matters.  I think about that often.

The Tigers have the greatest hitter in the game; I wish you could have seen him.  I know you'd want to argue that you've seen the best hitters and remind me about Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron and Ted Williams, but there are whispers that truly he is at least among them.  He's been playing injured since I would suspect mid-summer, but is very obviously badly injured now and hobbles along at times, so people are calling for him to be benched and calling for him to D.H. and forgetting again, too easily, who their heroes are.  How they got here in the first place.

Heroes.  A word I've heard too many times this October.  Our government shut down because our elected officials couldn't agree on a budget, so instead of agreeing to compromise, they just closed it down.  Except they still got paid.  The Congressional Gym remained open.  And both sides were pointing fingers back and forth, carrying on about veteran services being cut, how the other side was to blame and all I could think about while I was watching it was what you told me of the war; what you'd done; how many you'd seen die.

I thought of other deaths in the name of country; a funeral where I watched you watching a flag-draped coffin and the tears rolling down your face.  "Never makes sense," you'd said.  I thought about those things and I grew more and more angry, so I tried to think about the things that made me smile about you or I thought that the hatred would eat me alive.

I thought about sitting in your basement, you tapping on your ham radio and telling me how you were talking to someone from around the world. I thought about how I'd search out that spot on the huge map on the wall and stare in amazement, trying to comprehend how we were in such a small place, the middle of nowhere, and yet you were tapping out messages across the globe.

I remember you letting me think of a question to ask each respondent; I thought about the notebook that I kept of the questions and answers; I wondered where that notebook was.  I wondered where your radio was.  I wondered how I could wonder those things instead of knowing them. I wondered if I could get in my car, drive through the night and open the door to the basement and slip into your chair and tap out a message.  I wondered if anyone would respond even if I could.

I remembered the professor in college who had used his red-beamed pointer to repeat a message over and over during a lecture.  It was odd because initially, it was distracting me from what he was saying.

Then it was odd because I could feel something in my mind shifting and I couldn't figure out why.

Then it was odd because I thought, "he's sending a signal" and couldn't understand why I would think that. I remembered squinting, hard, for about ten seconds and seeing the dots as I closed my eyes.

I remembered that I'd startled in my seat and then looked around to see if anyone else was seeing what I did.  They all seemed oblivious, so I began to doubt myself, even though I was so sure.  I remembered sensing the agitation of my classmates with the distraction of the beams interruptions; how the professor kept apologizing and saying it was "on the blink."

I remembered at the end of class when he turned to us and asked, "Well, then, can anyone answer the question?"  There was a marked silence.  "Nobody?" He'd asked and I'd slowly raised my arm, cursing myself the entire time. (Are you crazy?  Are you INSANE?  Everyone is going to laugh.  He's going to laugh.  You'll have to drop this class.  Put your arm down.  Put.  Your.  Arm.  Down.  Oh my God, I hate you.)

"Ann Arbor" I'd murmured, "The University of Michigan."  He asked me if I was aware that the military was no longer taught morse code.  I said that I wasn't; I couldn't believe that could be true. Then he told the class that morse code was now considered obsolete because new technology had taken over and told us that we should think about who we trusted to deliver messages to us; what we would do if we had to communicate on elementary levels when we were being wired to communicate on much higher levels; what would we do if we relied upon technology that was overseen by the government and then he dismissed our class.

I remembered how at your funeral there was a place in your casket where notes could be placed; how we were encouraged to write something down; how I was instantly suspicious and how my mom had said, "Jennifer, come on."

She looked so exhausted and Big A was watching, so I complied.  I remembered how, on that day, when I tried my absolute hardest, I could not remember one single trace of morse code. I couldn't remember one abbreviation.

I couldn't remember one word.  I couldn't remember one letter.  I couldn't even remember "SOS".

I shut my eyes to try to remember and still couldn't.  Then I started panicking, trying to remember when I forgot.  Then I started needing to take deep breaths and then I remembered that I had to stop panicking, because Big A was there, watching.  So I wrote.  Bled myself out onto that final letter to you and folded it up two (alright, maybe three) more times than necessary, just to be sure.

I looked up morse code when I'd gotten home, back to my home, where I had access to the internet and found it:  30.  No more.  (End.)  And I'd shut my laptop and didn't think about morse code anymore.  Except when I was tapping on my chest, but even then, I wasn't thinking about it.

God; how have I gotten so far off track?  I wanted to write to you to tell you that the goddamn Tigers are on the edge of collapse, again, and instead it's me collapsing.  I suppose it'll be winter before I get back up there and I suppose there will be snow waist high blocking off the road to the cemetery where you are buried and I will think, "Can't go visit his grave now."  And I will be relieved to have put off once more what I've yet to bring myself to do.  I've no desire to see your name etched in stone, to stand upon a spot which to me simply does not exist:  A spot where you are buried; for you are everywhere, still.

It should be enough, I think, that I weep upon the grave of your memory every day.

But I never cry as hard, it seems, as when the Tigers are playing in October and I find myself stunned to find that Kirk Gibson is not waiting in the wings to deliver a miracle and it is not 1984 and I remind myself that you are gone; those days are gone.

And to calm myself I begin to wiggle my feet and tap on my chest.


No more.  (End.)

I miss you, Gramps.

I miss you so much.

Love always,