June 02, 2008

Secrets and Stories

I am a man who is full of stories and secrets, which I suppose begs the question of what the difference is. You know, what is the difference between a story and a secret. I'd like to say that I have some kind of cool answer that I can share with you. I'd like to say that there is a hidden gem of wisdom that I can share with you, but I don't know that I have it.

Many years ago my grandfather told me that there would come a time when I'd see that life was a series of secrets and stories and that as you aged you'd start to see the difference and that sometimes there wasn't any difference of any significance.

Both my grandfathers had a knack for telling a good tale, which I suppose is part of why I try so hard to do it as well as they. There is an art to it. I am doing my best to learn it.

The end of this month will mark two years since my paternal grandfather died and as you know the days pass but I never forget. I watch my son try to emulate me. I watch my father try to emulate his father. And somewhere in between I do my own to try and do as my father and grandfather.

When I close my eyes I can hear him tell stories about his time in the carnival business. I can picture the twinkle in his eye when he regaled me with stories of being single in New Orleans, of train rides during his time in the service, hustling pool or his youth in Chicago.

I remember them well, but I can't tell them as he did. So many stories filled his 92 years of life. I heard the good and the bad. He told me about his hopes and dreams and some of his failures. The stories of failure came in the later years. For the most part they weren't stories of regret, most of them were told in a matter of fact tone of voice. I suppose the point was to reassure and remind me that life has its moments.

Those bright blue eyes could twinkle, but they could flash in anger. That wasn't something I saw very often. In fact, the only time I can remember him being angry with me was that dark period after my father's heart attack. I hadn't told him how serious it was. I felt badly about it, but I had already told him about the death of one son and I just wasn't willing to play those cards yet.

I knew that he knew that things were bad and he knew that I knew. For a while it just played out between us. Eventually he told me that he intended to get on a plane, he was going to go and bring his son home.

I told him that he couldn't. It was brutal.

If you are a parent you understand just how powerful the attachment to your children is. If you are a parent you understand that you will walk through hell covered in gasoline to go get them.

But my dad was in a hospital fighting to stay alive. Three thousand miles away he was hooked up to all sorts of machines. When I had been there I had listened to the beeps and whistles and wondered how the strongest man I knew had been reduced to this.

Back home in L.A. I struggled with how much to reveal. What right did I have to withhold information. What obligations did I have and how could I fulfill them.

When I told him that he couldn't just go I witnessed a thunder storm. The look in eyes and the bite in his voice was difficult to contend with. He had never yelled at me. My sweet grandfather had never raised his voice, but this was different.

Now I saw for myself where my father had gotten some of his expressions. I saw for myself that the man could string together the most colorful expressions you could imagine. He had a way with words. It broke my heart to listen and it hurt to tell him no.

But there was nothing that he could do and I was concerned that the trip would be too hard. What would I do if he died. How could I explain to my father that grandpa had died on my watch. Somewhere in this blog I shared how my father began his eulogy for his own father with "My father was my hero." Add my own fear of my father dying and you can see that it was a difficult time.

So I stood there and let him yell at me. I listened to a father voice his fear and I told him that I understood. A bit later as I passed by his chair he grabbed my hand and pulled my head down and kissed my cheek.

I was forgiven.

Later that day we sat down and shared dinner. I can't tell you what we ate, I really don't remember. I could tell you some of what we talked about. I could share some of those stories with you, but I won't. Some of those are just for us.

So if you ask me what the difference is between a secret and a story I suppose that the answer is that a secret is a story that you don't share with anyone else and a story is just that, a story.


V-Grrrl said...

I only knew one of my grandparents...

Jack said...

I have been very lucky.