#52sparks: An elderly person

When I had the chance to give a presentation at a national conference on student development for adult higher education, I asked Grandpa for a copy of the picture that starts this post.  I remembered it was on a wall in his den, among other mostly black-and-white images of he and Grandma with famous individuals (or family members who were just as important to them).  He mailed it right away without questioning why I needed it.  It was only later that I explained that I wanted to use it as an introductory prop for my lesson.  My focus was on working with students to discern who they want to be, rather than just what they want to be.

As a child, I wanted to be my grandfather.

My grandfather retired when I was in middle school.  I was ticked.  He was the publisher of the local newspaper, and I thought that I was going to take over the job once I was out of college.  Clearly I had very little idea of how employment worked.

As publisher of the Yakima Herald Republic, Grandpa had a kind secretary who sat outside his office.  She often had suckers or other small candies in a dish on the corner of her desk, where I could easily grab one on the way into the office.  Once inside the first door, I was not really in Grandpa’s office.  First he had a conference area with leather couches and a heavy wooden table in the corner.  Bookshelves were built into one wall, though rather than books there were statues and awards that I wanted to play with, but was also afraid to touch.  A large tree sat on the other side of the room, and even today I’m not sure if it was real or fake.  I remember pulling off a leaf, but it might have been silk rather than alive.

It was rare that I actually went all the way into Grandpa’s real office.  It was a smaller space in the back corner, with its own door dividing it from the main area.  A large black phone sat on the desk, with a rolodex beside it with names I did not recognize.  I imagined him calling politicians to demand quotes for a big scoop, or maybe police officers to let them know about some evil deed they should stop.  A type writer was on the table behind him and eventually a computer sat on another area.  Everything in the room had a place and was exactly in the place it was supposed to be.  The room felt powerful, just as my grandfather always has.

My family helped me move to Portland when I got my first real job.  I had very little time between the interview and my first day at work so it was a rush to get everything sorted before the moving truck pulled into my parents driveway.  My grandparents wanted to help with the process as well, though not all of the heavy lifting my parents and brother helped with.  Instead they decided to take over the first grocery trip to fill in the empty apartment fridge with all of the condiments, real foods, and snack foods that a 20-something needs for entering the real world.

After walking up and down every single aisle at Albertsons, we walked the overflowing shopping cart up to the check out stand.  I was exhausted, feeling stressed, and wanted nothing more than to get “home” to my apartment and hopefully sit for the first time in hours.  Grandpa meanwhile decided to have a conversation with the woman behind the counter.  Why did she have a band-aid on her finger?  Did she have a recommended brand?  How long had she worked here?  Did she know about the college that his granddaughter (“that’s her over there”) was working at?  How did she like Portland?…The man was a natural reporter and had to know the entire story of her life, and probably remembers it all, before we left the store.  When I visit Grandma and Grandpa, they both remember the first and last names of childhood friends, young adult colleagues, and those who have passed away from their gated community.  Sometimes I hear the same story more than a few times, but their memories never falter.  Those stories matter to them.  The matter to me too.

Grandpa is not a perfect man.  He dislikes conflict so much that he will change the subject suddenly and dramatically if you get onto a topic he does not want to discuss.  And we have different views on politics and what messes are worth getting into.  There are battles that I wish he would get into for the sake of others.  As a patriarch, he acts in the way he views as best for the family and for the town.

What I admire most about him is his curiosity for life.  He is constantly reading books, newspapers, websites, and magazines to learn about local affairs, world history, or just enjoying a Western novel.  He authentically cares about the lives of strangers, and will remember the stories they tell him.  After retirement, he shifted energies toward hiking and photography.  He continues to walk miles around the neighborhood and a nearby park, visiting with friends and strangers alike (and sometimes offering them a sucker from his pack).

Grandpa has an 87-year-old body, and a soul that is somehow younger and older inside.

#52sparks is my year-long writing series based on an art prompt challenge.  The title is inspired by a quote from Star Wars: The Last Jedi: “We are the spark, that will light the fire that’ll burn the First Order down” (Poe Dameron).  The spark that lights a fire to toast a marshmallow or to ravage a forest begins in the space of an inch.  So just imagine what hundreds of inches and words can do.

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