Friday, November 26, 2004

Life Story 

My grandfather can’t sleep.

He’s on the couch in the guesthouse lounge, staring into space when we return from a movie.

He tells us his life story – buying the farm in 1927, moving away from home in 1940 at age 14, working at the Venetian blinds place until it moved out of town, and then buying that first panel truck, taking orders, and making a business for himself buying eggs from his old neighbor farms, and selling them door to door to the folks who used to come for a week at a time, 70 at a time, to his parent’s farm.

In the winter, it was just a farm. They tapped tress and boiled maple syrup on the woodstove which was always burning, his mother always too hot, with a towel around her neck. They had 67 acres: cows, chickens, two horses. He fed them, milked the cows, mostly. He drove the Model T as soon as his legs could reach the pedals; left school at 14 against the principal’s urging because he was needed on the farm.

But the farm was just for sustenance. In the summer, the summerfolk came for a week at a time, 70 at once, to sit around all day and play cards, or just lie in the sun. They paid 25 bucks, maybe 30 for the week. His father sang tenor on the porch, and the guests said it was just like the radio. In the fall, his father, though not a religious man in his heart, was the cantor for the local synagogue at the high holy days.

His father died because he wasn’t thinking. There was an overflow pipe, a release valve, for when the water boiler got too full, and one summer day the dishwasher told him the “pipe was leaking.” In a hurry to get into town in the car, he told the guy to plug up the pipe. Later, the boiler blew up in his face from the pressure.

He met Florence there at the farm. She came up with some friends, and they fell in love. She used to play handball – be active, he says. But though my father listens carefully for the tiniest new memories each time he tells it, that’s really the only place she’s always had in his story.

And now on the guesthouse couch in his full clothes and slippers because he couldn’t sleep in the bed – the blankets were too heavy, something -- Hy struggles to fit her death into his life story. He tells of the coffin being lowered, and the guests coming from the retirement village, a surprise, unexpected; how she walked in to the hospital on Monday, and then, on Sunday, she was gone. It’s not anecdotal yet, and you can see it’ll bother him until it is.

They were married for 64 years. At home, he says, he keeps looking over at the couch to see if the TV is too loud for her.

I’d do anything to help him sleep.

posted by boyhowdy | 1:29 AM |

wow... hmm, not much else to say I guess. that's pretty sad.
I think, sometimes, it is merely by listening as they tell their stories (however many times they tell it) that we help the most.

I understand how you feel - I really do.
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