I don’t believe in reincarnation. I’ve never seen a ghost. I’m not so sure about angels. But I absolutely believe that people who have left us can communicate with those of us who are still here – not necessarily because it’s true, but because it makes me feel better to think so.
(Kind of like how I believe that Starbucks is a panacea for any number of ills. Can this be proven true in a science lab or a court of law? Doubtful. But it makes me feel awfully damn good, so does it really matter? I THINK NOT.)
My grandfather passed away seven years ago this September. We’d just moved to the Rochester area, and I’m pretty sure that I spent more time with him (and my grandmother) in those few months before he died than I had during my previous 31 years. It was delightful.
This is not to say that my grandfather was “delightful.” I’m not saying he was the opposite of delightful, but “delightful” really isn’t a word that anyone would have used to describe him. He wasn’t exactly the pull-you-on-his-lap, tussle-your-hair, call-you-“Squirt” kind of grandpa. (My extended family, and everyone who knew my grandpa well, have all spit out their beverages at the mere thought of this.)
My grandfather with Ella, who has “borrowed” one of his many hats.
He was a good many other things, though – wickedly clever, music-loving, handy, creative, gruff and grumpy, witty, smart, difficult, funny – and that 2007 summer was delightful. He loved technology and kept abreast of any number of “modern” conventions that eluded so many other octogenarians; after becoming an early American Idol devotee and watching Ryan Seacrest close each show with a hip, “Seacrest out!”, Grandpa began signing emails to me with “Taylor out!” Likewise, the very last communication he had with all of us – a brief email – ended with “TTYL”.
I can’t begin to summarize him here; he and his personality and my relationship with him don’t fit into tiny, tidy boxes. I will say that, when Ella was born, we originally started off referring to him as “Great Gramp,” but after only a few months, he requested that it be shortened to simply “Great… because that’s appropriate, don’t you think?” Simply put, I miss him.
We routinely take the back route to the lake, a road that brings us past a well-stocked, open-air fruit and vegetable store. Last weekend, I’d been asked to stop by the store on our way down to see if there were fresh peaches. As I sorted through the quarts and pints, an elderly gentleman — easily in his eighties or nineties – approached and began talking to me. At first, I thought he was just making conversation (“Have you got everything you need?”) but when he began talking to me as though he knew me (“Will we be paying for the peaches up front? Did you get them all? How many do we need for dessert?”), I realized that something wasn’t quite right.
I’m still not sure what exactly was going on – whether he had some form of dementia, whether he was just confused, or whether he merely had mistaken me for the girl working behind the register (she was a gorgeous young brunette, so it’s entirely possible) – and I didn’t want to be rude, so I cheerily answered his questions as kindly but vaguely as I could (so as not to further confuse him)… but it was so freakin’ hard because he sounded just like my grandpa.
Great with Annie, summer 2007.
Yes, he looked vaguely like him too – the square-ish face, the familiar jowls, the wrinkles around his eyes – but it was his voice that nearly did me in. It wasn’t bad, really – it was just completely unexpected, because, aside from videos, the last time I’d heard my grandfather speak was when Annie was nine months old.
And it wasn’t just a close facsimile; this gentleman sounded exactly like him. The nuances, the cadence… For the first time in forever, I was hearing my grandfather’s voice. It was strange and startling and completely overwhelming. I paid for the peaches, bid the man goodbye, got back into the car, and promptly burst into tears (which my children totally appreciated).
Nick was wonderfully supportive of my little breakdown, telling me he’d be weirded out, too, and that I wasn’t an utter nutball. There was a pause before he added, “That was totally your grandpa saying hi, you know.” I looked at him as though he’d lost his mind – um, I don’t know how to break it to you, but grandpa’s been gone for, like, a long time now – but he simply smiled and continued. “We’re on the way to the lake. He and Phoofsy stopped by here a lot. So it’s the perfect place for him to just pop by – not literally, of course – and let you know that he’s still thinking about you. “
This cannot be proven, but I have no doubt that Nick is right. Of all the traits my grandfather possessed, being complimentary wasn’t one of them; not to your face, anyway. Instead, he would regale his friends with tales of your accomplishments and they, in turn, would come to you and say, “Wow – your art opening was really something incredible. Your grandfather told me all about it.” (Okay, so I never had an art opening – don’t be absurd – but if I did, I’m sure he wouldn’t have told me that he liked it. Everyone else would have on his behalf.)
So it makes perfect sense that my grandpa would be checking in through someone else, even if it was just to say hi. Or to talk about peaches.
And if it wasn’t him reaching out from the great beyond? Well, that’s okay, too. I grinned from ear to ear for the rest of the ride (after I’d stopped crying and assured the girls that I wasn’t insane) at the mere thought that it could be, and that’s all that really matters.
One of my favorite photos of Great and Ella – he’s “threatening” to take a drink out of her sippy cup. The look on his face pretty much sums him up.