my grandfather's boots (and dreams)
I keep dreaming about my grandfather, lately. In one dream, we are at the firehouse where he worked for many years of my girlhood. I see my brother in a fireman's getup and I keep asking when Matt became a fireman, but no one hears me. I'm like a ghost, on the outside looking in. My grandfather is laughing, patting my brother on the back. I see my reflection and suddenly, I am small, a young girl, the one I see in photos I saved and put on my fridge as a reminder (of what I am not always sure). Then suddenly, we are in the living room of the house my father was raised in, a house I have not seen in years but remember every hiding place. My brother is trying on my grandfather's boots, which miraculously fit, though now my brother is young, maybe 5. We put on music and dance around the small room. I am in a nightgown, my brother still wearing the boots. There's a photo of us like this, somewhere. And now it is in my dream.
I wake up feeling like Alice in Wonderland.
I don't write much about my grandfather. In many ways he was not an easy man to know. It's not that he was quiet, oh no. He was a master storyteller, with a mischievous grin and all the time in the world to talk. No social cues or rules of etiquette could prevent my grandfather from demanding your time. Nothing ever took the "just one minute" he promised. Ever. He was also quick to frustration and appreciated precision and dedication to a task. I was much too lazy for him as a young adult. As a teenager when I preferred books to sweating outside alongside my brother, working on cars or lawn mowers or whatever project my grandfather would begin and never finish, he would shake his head at me as I begged to be released from the task at hand.
He was a complex man, though he would have told you differently. Well-liked and admired, my grandfather believed there was nothing dirt under your fingernails and a large mason jar of iced-tea could not cure. He threw himself into whatever idea, project, money-making scheme, or plan struck him at the time. He lived with his whole being, vibrating the space around him with energy and warmth. My brother and I adored him, in the way you adore grandfathers, wondering about who they were before you, imagining wild scenarios of a past life. We created contests to see who could make him laugh first and were never disappointed with the results. One of my clearest and fondest memory is each of us grabbing one of his boots and pulling them off his feet at the end of the day.
While going through my grandmother's photos I discovered some of my grandfather I'd never seen before. He is handsome and tan, lying on the beach, more carefree than I ever saw him. In another, my grandmother sits in his lap, smiling at him. His adoration his obvious. My grandmother is serene and beautiful. Though it is taken years before, it reminds me of their wedding photo, the one I see every morning as I put on make-up, and get ready for the day.
In trying to record some genealogy, I have been searching for information about my great-grandfather, but no one seems to know much about him. My father says no one ever knew that story. I know that he died when my grandfather was a teenager. I do not know where he met my great-grandmother, or why he moved from Mississippi to Alabama, after his time in the service was complete. My grandfather grew up with missing pieces to his story. Surely, it must have shaped his own understanding of the world to have his father missing from him. When my great-grandmother remarried, I wonder if my grandfather was relieved. George was my Granny O's second husband but the only great-grandfather I knew. He was moody and quiet but seemed like a different person when my brother and I were around. He joked with us constantly and watched us as we ran around the yard and played in the swing. We sat with him on the porch as he drank coffee; we had Coca-Colas in cans and donuts, despite our parents' protestations. George called me "monkey," so I called him "elephant" and our roles in one another's lives were set. But I know practically nothing of his time raising teenage boys after their father died or how he met my great-grandmother.
The only history I know of these men is where it intertwines with my own. And I am lucky that it does. People are often surprised to hear I knew my great-grandparents, and that I was able to spend quality, memorable time alongside them. When I talk about family, roots, my childhood, I am able to recall, rich and full memories, stories of those who nurtured, cared and paved a way for me. I am incredibly grateful for that. And sometimes, it makes me greedy because I want more. I want more stories, more time, to be able to appreciate what I have when I have it.