The first day of spring is going to be strange for me for a while, I think. Last year it was the day my grandfather died, and from now on it will be an anniversary I observe whether I'm aware of it or not. His death hit me harder than I expected it to, and it was probably for the best that I didn't see my family until a month later for his memorial, because I was a little bit less of a mess by then. Not so much less that I didn't blubber through the bit of hastily-written disorganized eulogizing I'd scrawled on hotel room notepad pages, but enough that I could get through half an hour of solitude without crying, which was a nice marker of progress. My commute these days, a mile-and-a-half-ish walk down Cambridge side streets, is generally a half hour of solitude, and for the first couple of weeks I had a web page open on my phone's browser with a long list of funny lines from Archer. About ten minutes from the office, I'd look at it to force myself to stop crying and give myself time to regain my composure. I've long since stopped needing to do that, but on Friday I found myself back there again. I'd been aware of the looming milestone, but it still took me by surprise. It didn't help that I've been spending time the last couple of weeks in this leadership training program at work that is heavily tilted towards fostering empathy in the workplace and forcing all the participants to do some heavy introspection. It's bringing emotions in general a little closer to the surface than I normally like them, especially when it comes to the workplace.
So here is another story about my grandfather, to mark one year without him.
I spent big chunks of my elementary school summers staying with my grandparents, in an arrangement that was probably just as much about saving money on childcare than about keeping them present in my life. While my dad's mother in LA really catered to my presence with shopping trips and Disneyland excursions, my mom's parents just integrated me into their routines and schedule. One big element of their routine was that my grandfather would go out for long walks early in the morning before sitting down to breakfast with me and my grandmother. I've never been much of an early riser, but one morning I was invited to get up super-early to join my grandfather for one of these walks, and thrilled at being invited into something that seemed so private. I'm not sure how far we walked, and I don't remember much of what we talked about beyond the moment where he stopped to point out a spot along the road where a family dog had been killed by a car decades ago. The most vivid memory I have was of somehow smacking into a cactus and getting a bunch of spines stuck in the palms of my hands. Eventually his vision got bad enough that he had to stick to familiar streets, and eventually couldn't really venture much beyond the house on his own*, and that day wound up being the only time I went out with him on one of these walks. The walk itself, obviously, wasn't even particularly memorable, but I remember it all the same, usually when I take an indirect route home from work to give myself a bit more alone time, or get deliberately lost on foot in a new city. The virtues of travel on foot - the reliability and independence of it, the slow steadiness, the flexibility to go literally anywhere, to move at a pace that allows you to really see the things around you - all seem like qualities that describe my grandfather as well. He was never, I think, in much of a hurry to get anywhere, but still managed to cover a lot of ground in his life. I never knew whether he followed a particular route on those walks, or just wandered, but I like to think that he did both, deciding each morning what sort of day it was.
* It took a long time to get to this point, though. For a while he would run local errands on an adult-sized tricycle. He was probably legally blind already at the time. He was definitely legally blind when he was 93 years old and climbing a ladder in the backyard to manhandle a scarecrow into a cherry tree, and the time he swore up and down that he could totally cut down a tree in the front yard with a chainsaw unassisted.