A decade and change after my grandpa bestowed upon me the responsibility of settling his estate when the time came, my world experienced a series of seismic shifts.
First, there was this introduction to make.
I remember it well. I had searched long and hard for just the right outfit for my daughter to wear for the occasion, but she was so small that even though she arrived two weeks past her due date, she wore preemie diapers. She was swimming in the dress that I had painstakingly selected, but I didn’t care. I tacked it tighter with a few stitches in back. Nothing else would do! It was a wordless tribute to my grandpa’s place in my universe- an echo of my past being worn by my future.
That picture turns twenty in a few months, but in my heart and mind, it is as fresh as last week. This snapshot, worth thousands of words, doesn’t tell the whole story.
The bay window in the living room was open, letting in May sunshine and an unseasonably warm breeze filled with the scent of flowers blooming in the front yard. Daffodils, peonies, iris, marigolds, roses, and lilacs all paraded through in turn. My grandma loved flowers, and grandpa loved grandma, so there were always flowers in the yard, and they were always well-tended. Iris and peonies often circled a birdbath that was positioned directly in front of the window, in the center of the lawn. I remember it was made of concrete painted white, and it was well-used. There may have been birds in the bath that day, or they may have been perched in the lilac bush or the nearby Bradford pear tree. This picture doesn’t come with audio- the ever-present country music on the kitchen radio, birds chirping, blinds clicking against the window as they swayed in the breeze. Because it is restricted to that frozen moment in time, it also doesn’t show what happened next.
My grandpa began to cry.
Quiet tears slipped down his tanned face as he explained I may not understand it yet, but my world had just been shaken and would never, ever be the same.
“You can’t even imagine how much you’re going to love this little girl. How you will hurt when she hurts. How proud you will be over tiny, silly things. How you will worry about her every day for the rest of your life. I know you love her now, but there’s so much more to come that you can’t even imagine.”
He talked about how much he loved me. My brother. Others in the family.
He sat and stared at her, so tickled by her little overall dress and flowered onesie that I can’t think of a single thing that ever pleased him more.
On a different visit – perhaps that fall, one of those tremors caught me totally by surprise, and the connection between my past and future felt jarred and cracked.
“We’re selling the farm.”
It had been many years since our conversation in the garage, introducing me to the idea that grandpa might not be immortal. But I had been able to bury it in the back of my mind, hiding it high on a shelf where the untouched idea grew a thick coating of dust.
Despite my protests, my nostalgia, my genuine heartbreak over the loss of the place that held at least half my childhood memories, grandpa was steadfast in his decision.
“I’m not leaving it for you to deal with when I’m gone. It’s the right thing to do. No one will work the farm– not even you. I have an offer from the family that operates it with me now, and they’re trustworthy and will do right by it. We sign the papers for owner financing in a few days. Someday you’re going to have to take that over. I’ll do it for now. I just wanted you to know.”
I didn’t want to let that place go any more than I wanted to acknowledge that I might eventually have to let go of my grandpa. He was the solid oak that offered me shade and stability, and in my mind the roots that held him firm were buried deep in the soft soil of that farm.
Days later, he signed the paperwork to make it official.
The farm was technically still there, but for us, it was gone.