Today I skipped all of my classes and drove home. Home, home. I picked up my little sister and headed to my grandparent’s house in the middle of the woods a few towns over, and walked in and took a good look around, like I do once a year on Christmas and this time it was so different than before. Too clean, half empty, so quiet. My grandfather didn’t seem to talk much if you didn’t know him very well. He seemed grumpy, but not in a genuine way, almost as if he were mocking the bitter old grumps of the world. Someone emailed my grandmother saying “He was a pretend old fart, always hiding a smirk behind it”. It was his own little joke that only a lucky few could understand. I can’t pretend I was hardly more than one of them, unfortunately, I didn’t see him often, ask him many questions about himself. I didn’t even know he basically invented the selfie with an old polaroid camera, served in Vietnam, was born in Canada, or one night wore a bright yellow rain jacket to cook on the grill in the pouring rain and made my grandmother laugh so hard that she couldn’t help but giggle at the pictures of it today, despite the unfortunate circumstances. There were so many pictures. I had the honor of standing at a CVS kiosk today for over an hour sifting through and every one of them, narrowing it down to the 51 best. They were from 2008-now, they were bike trips (yes by bike I mean motorcycle, yes I’m still referring to my grandparents, and yes they are probably more badass than you), mountains, a real life black bear 4 feet from sight, and this big rock he loved painted to look like a fish. More than that, they were adventure, love, and undeniable genuine happiness, they were/are life, in its purest, most honest, form, flashing before our eyes. They were her life, and his of course; she even said so, as she recounted the numerous trips from western mass, to Vermont, to Canada. The memories flooding back just by the sight of a certain date, with stories attached to each. Stories I would have never known about, had I not been standing there today. We laughed at some and then at one of this certain lake, the one with the fish rock that he loved so much, the tears came, “he just loved it there so much, it was his favorite place, that rock made him happy”. I didn’t say so but I almost cried too right then, almost completely lost my cool in the middle of a small town CVS, because I finally saw my grandpa in a way I wasn’t able to on those few Christmasy hours each year, I finally heard all the things he could have told me about had I ever made an effort to ask, to listen. He was brought to life for me, even through death, which I think, speaks volumes of a person and the life they lived.
In the midst of watching these beautiful lives flash before my eyes I saw my own too. Because I know one day someone might go on and ruin October for me. Not ruin I guess, because that makes it seem like it was their fault in some way, but change. Someone might change the way I see October forever, and I might have to look through 7 years of pictures in a CVS kiosk with my grand daughter and try not to cry when I see his favorite place and realize he won’t get to be there again. (There’s nothing better than being in someone’s favorite place with that someone). I might talk about how much I loved Halloween and used to go all out decorating and making my front porch terrifying and maybe my granddaughter will light up when I say that (like I did with mine today) and tell me it’s her favorite too.
Except my life will be my own and instead of a crazy front porch maybe I will remember the mantle of my first little rented college home this fall, complete with cobwebs, pumpkins, and our collection of empty alcohol bottles…. “Those are the things you remember” my grandma told me today. We will remember all the things we are doing right now so it’s so important to do them and embrace them and to take notice of them while they are happening, if not just for the sake of the moment, than for this moment, the moment where people are crying in CVS over a lake and a painted rock and a yellow rain coat. For the moment where you look back on those moments where you were doing something just for the sake of the moment, and are so fucking glad that you did. I’m a lot more like my grandparents than I thought.
I wish I could have gotten to know my grandfather for the incredible man he clearly was while he was here, I wish I had more time, but I know now for certain that he made the best of his. The special thing about him though, is that I was still able to learn from his even after he left us. I learned today to never stop asking strangers to take pictures of my friends and I, or to always take pictures of them, to never quit making my poor quality seasonal videos. I will treasure and collect the moments where I do things for nothing else than the sake of the moment. Like today when I skipped a day of classes to stand in CVS with my grandma, or the time I stayed an extra night in NH with the guy with the greatest smile, even though I knew I wouldn’t make it to my 10am class three hours away. The times I forced my friends to celebrate “fall day”, all the times I’m hysterically laughing in the car or library, the grocery store or in the middle of a party with a friend and can’t explain to anyone else why it’s so funny. The times I had one more drink, one last bite, drove a little further, climbed up higher, looked at that view for an few more minutes, played that song, yet again, slipped in one more word, held on tighter, ran an extra mile, snuck in one more kiss, took pictures of it all, and wrote it all down. My grandfather is gone but I’ll forever be learning his most valuable lesson, taught simply by example. Through death he has taught me to live. To live and to keep living-life is what’s happening right now.