A Curious Habit
I have a curious habit. Whenever I receive a card or little note or photograph that is particularly sweet, I will jam it into a book, cookbook, or journal. That way, I reason, in years to come, I will somehow happen upon it and feel the same small burst of joy. Yesterday I was flicking through my notes for ‘Unraveling Arva’ and I came across a photo of my grandfather and me. I was about seven or eight then, and we were in his front garden, wild grass up over the tops of my rubber boots. In his hand he held the scythe, while I proudly held up my sickle. I remember him swinging the scythe, slicing through great patches, as I crouched and sawed small handfuls with the sickle. Then we stuffed buckets with cut grass and carried it up to the field behind his house, dumping it in a big pit.
My grandfather was very special to me. Growing up as one of six children, it was a treat to spend a week or two there every summer, where I was one of one. Throughout the day, I was his shadow. Once when we travelled to the dump in his yellow truck, we found a crumpled swing set. He lifted it into the back of the pick-up, brought it home, and spent the afternoon tapping it into shape. Hand-drilled a hole through a piece of wood, and after knotting two lengths of rope, I had my swing.
After dinner, we would often walk along the old track with his little dog, and if I were cold, he’d lend me his big coat. One evening, I happened upon a patch of partridgeberries, and I picked them, put them in his coat pocket. By the time I arrived at the house, something was padding me on the back of my thighs. The berries had slipped through a hole in the pocket lining, collected inside his coat. My grandmother cut a small slit, recovered all the berries, and made a cup of jam. For our evening snack, my grandfather and I ate the warm jam, bright, bright red, smeared over homemade bread.
The one time he became upset with me was when I left the lights on in the bathroom. He hated any hint of waste. Not surprising really, as he grew up quite poor. My grandmother told me he was mocked for wearing his sister’s shoes. He never threw a single thing away, and it was all organized in the cellar. I was always nervous stepping down the steep narrow stairway into the dimness, but once there I loved the smell of the air, the sight of collections in every corner.
Seeing that photo of the two of us lifted my spirits. Made me smile and think about how much I loved him. How, even a lifetime later, I still miss him. A person can only be perfect through the eyes of a child, and he died when I was quite young, so that appraisal is frozen, will never change. Now I’ll tuck our photo away again, in a recipe book this time, nipped between the pages of something I intend to make one day when I have more time. And as I do so, I’ll make a silent wish that down the road, I will find it again.