Saturday, August 01, 2015
When I was very young, I lived with my grandparents in Highland Park. Grampy was an L.A. City Firefighter; in his spare time he was a woodworker. He often made me toys - my favorites were arrows that he notched out of old shingles. He gave me a stick with a piece of knotted string attached to it. The knot fit into the notch of the arrow and I would fling it around the backyard, cautious not to "put anybody's eye out." Eventually, I flung the arrow over the fence and into the tall weeds behind the neighbor's yard. Grampy would notch some more arrows and the pattern continued. Losing Grampy in 1976 was my first real experience with gut-wrenching grief. The loss was unimaginable. In later years I would lament that I never really had the opportunity to talk with him as an adult, to properly relate to him how very much he meant to me. The recent sale of my grandparents' house got me to thinking about those lost arrows and the comfort of sawdust and a table saw in Grampy's garage. In recent weeks I find myself grieving the loss of my other grandfather. My maternal grandfather. A man I saw once as a young adult. I was told by my father my grandmother that this man, Russell, loved me and came to visit me when I was a baby. Nonie said he sat by my crib. I must have sensed that. I was given little morsels of information about him before the subject was forever changed. Why, oh why, would this loss, this grief, rear its head now? Where was it before? It was a "shame," it was "unfortunate," it was "too bad." But it wasn't real grief. Then suddenly, I am running along this mountain path with tears, real tears, welling up in my eyes and I am missing somebody, a grandfather, I never knew. I had to muster courage to ask questions. I messaged Scott, who is my brother in the same genetic sense that Susan is my sister. We share a parent. We don't share experience. I lament this. How he feels about it I do not know. I asked him about Russell and then I went to sleep. I tend to have many recurrent dreams. One of the dream-locations is my grandparents' house in Highland Park. In the dream, I am there with my friend Ana and we are searching for a hanger for her blouse. (Dreams are strange.) In front of Grampy's garage is a pile of wood. The neighbors are next door and speaking in Spanish. I think, Ana will know what they are saying. In front of the doors of the garage, underneath some of the wood, I find some arrows. These are fashioned from the creamy white sticks I see on my mountain hikes. They are long, slender, and curvy. There are no notches but they are decorated with bright paint and beautiful feathers. They are exquisite and delicately carved. I gather them up, as if they are a gift. I am overcome. Then, Ana and I are on a speedboat. Such are the quirks of dreams. In the morning I read the message from Scott. He corroborates what little I know and he speaks lovingly of this man, his grandfather. He tells me that Russell liked to shoot with a bow and arrow. I stare at this. I read the message over and over again and I want to cry. I have a story, I think. It is a good story. I want to tell you. It is about arrows. Beautiful arrows, hand-made and colorful. Longer than Grampy's arrows, painstakingly decorated. It is a story about family, about love, about mistakes, about loss. It is a story about my grandfathers. In mythology, in old stories, arrows pierce the heart. In my story, the lift it up and I try not to lose them in the weeds.