"a man finds room in the few square inches of his face for the traits of all his ancestors; for the expression of all his history, and his wants." - ralph waldo emerson
i started writing last night.
no, really writing.
because with the exception of any writing i did back in school and the past few years at work--my personal relationship with writing has been more like the occasional torrid affair. a few hot, impassioned one-night-stands, then abandoned for months. it's been all very romantic and tortured-artisty. but i've been feeling an increasing intensity in my longing for deeper commitment, for growth. for the ideas i've been composing all these years as a "writer" to take form and show their faces.
so i've committed to a new process. it's all very structured and not at all spontaneous. (for now.) and my first few uninspired jabs at timed writing will hopefully never be seen by anyone. (the horror!)
last night, i didn't know where to start so i just started somewhere. and during the natural progression of "just getting it down", my words stumbled across the memory of my late grandfather. my father's father.
this is the grandfather i hardly knew, the one who passed away when i was 7 and no one bothered to tell me directly that he was dead until we went to his funeral and i figured out what was really happening when i saw the casket and him in it.
my father had only said, "your grandfather won't be able to kiss you anymore."
my grandfather had gentle blue eyes and a longish face, ghost white hair that was combed neatly back. he wore large suit coats over broad shoulders and skinny ties down his lean frame. when we went to their house, we'd often find him sitting with my grandmother playing mancala with the smooth, round pebbles they'd collected when they were younger.
but my most profound memory of this grandfather is the way he'd show his affection--his embrace a deliberate scratching of his scruffy, unshaven face against my delicate cheeks. the clumsy cousin of the fluttery eskimo-kiss.
a few years after he died, i found a black coat of his in my brother's closet and took it. that coat hung in my closets from here to seattle and back, with an almost permanent line of gray dust across the tops of the shoulders where its weight rested against the wooden hanger.
i remembered that dusty coat last night, and i had an overwhelming urge to find it and wear it around the apartment for a while. so during my very structured, non-spontaneous writing time, i moved to the coat closet to find it, hoping also to find the imagined smell or warmth, anything. but the quick inspection of my coats reminded me that i'd retired the coat to a large box in my carport labeled "vintage/old clothes - to keep" during my last move. back when i didn't really know what it meant, but knowing it meant something and i'd figure it out someday.
my older sister recently told me about how my grandfather was a sweet, simple man who never told her he was too busy to play with her. when she'd stolen roses from his garden to give to her grade school teacher, he had noticed it and simply asked her to tell him the next time she wanted one. he'd said it was so he could cut it properly. so the next time, she told him. and he prepared a large, beautiful handful of roses for her to take to school the next day--carefully tied together with a ribbon.
this memory--someone else's memory--made me love and miss a man i hardly knew.
but last night, just writing and remembering my father's father made him so much more familiar to me. as though the materialization of my own fragmented memories made him mine to remember. i wondered about the bits and pieces of this slender man that probably define me in more ways that i can imagine. maybe his eyes. some tenderness. perhaps an incurable sweet tooth. definitely sore cheeks.
and last night, he helped me through the beginning of hopefully many nights of writing and remembrance. it's only appropriate that it should begin with him.
"every man is a quotation from all his ancestors." - ralph waldo emerson