A few days ago my husband found a sparkling silver strand mixed in the midst of my brunette mass of hair. That discovery led to the remembrance of my grandfather who died a few years back. I fought myself, desperately trying not to remember the pain associated with reality. I finally “wrote him out” into a very short poem:
Two pens in an old man’s hands.
Wanting to know what to do with them.
He thinks of his life,
Of the stories they’ve told.
He holds them close,
The two pens in an old man’s hands.
The same two pens.
Same two pens in a young girl’s hands.
Thinking of all she can do with them.
She thinks of his life,
Of the stories he told.
She holds them close,
The old man’s pens in a young girl’s hands.
There he sits, embodied in only a few lines. By writing him out in a poem all of my emotions were finally sealed on paper. But no one else understands. What does this poem truly tell about my grandfather? I have to reveal the truth behind the lines in order to have silence. Not to silence my grandpa, no, that has already happened, but to silence the ear-piercing cries of pain associated with his passing.
It came unexpectedly. His death I mean. I found out he had a stroke and hadn’t regained consciousness over Valentine’s Day weekend my freshman year of college. I had gone home to make cookies for my boyfriend. My dad had already left for Oklahoma to wait and see if he would get better or worse. With my little brother out of the house for a couple hours with his grandmother, Mom and I had a few hours to breathe and grieve.
The mail came and Mom called for me with a shaky voice from the kitchen. Something was wrong. She handed me a small package as I entered the room. My eyes immediately recognized the handwriting and my heart skipped a few beats and nearly broke as I read the return address: Grandpa.
But how? He’d been in the hospital three days. With trembling hands I opened the package. It was a box marked “Sympathy.” Chills ran over my body. I removed the lid off the old note card box and inside were multiple items. Grandpa was known for sending my brothers and me random trinkets, but there was always a story behind them. Inside this box were two old pens and two new pens. The story was embedded in the older pens. Golden and antiqued with age their luster was gone and they may not even write anymore. I reached for the card searching for the story behind the pens.
The pens were my grandfather’s. He carried them to work and church with him from the 1970’s until he retired in 1994. I had just finished a three year career of writing opinion pieces for the American Press in Lake Charles and was currently writing for my college’s paper. My grandpa was proud of me and wanted to pass down to me the same pens he used for many years. He hoped they’d bring me the same success.
The letter was dated and signed with love. It was sent the day before he went unconscious, never to wake on this earth again. He died only a few days later. The gift he sent was more of a last will than he probably intended. Those pens are the only closure I was to have with his death.
He had a closed-casket funeral with a family viewing beforehand. I didn’t go to the viewing. I couldn’t. I didn’t want to see him lying there cold, dead, and not really there. I didn’t want that to be my last image of him. I wanted to keep him alive.
He’s been alive in my memory these past three years. As long as he stays in my mind he stays alive. As soon as he’s voiced, written down, or viewed, he dies all over again, each time as equally painful as his initial death. I do talk about him often, but about his life not his death. I want his memory to live on so he will live on. But living on in my mind alone is not enough.
He didn’t send me those pens so that I would keep my thoughts silent. He gave them to me so that I may write and write well. For him I write. For me I write about him. The pain of his death will always be there in the memory of his life. If I stay silent about his life then he stays dead. By writing his story, though, my grandpa can live on and the pain is somewhat eased.
His name is Paul Eugene Thomas, and he is my grandfather.
I hold the sympathy card note box he sent the pens in which still contains the index card letter that came that terrible morning as well as the program from his funeral. He sits in a small rectangular box in the upper left corner of the program. I can still hear his gruffy old smokers voice muffled by the silver whiskers around his wrinkled mouth as he calls me “Sugar.” His eyes squinting as he smiles through silver-rimmed glasses. His nearly white hair parted perfectly as a true gentleman. His mouth in that typical crooked Thomas smile creating a wrinkled dimple on one side. He looks just as I remember him. There’s a scripture by his frame. Psalm 78. The Psalm talks about doing exactly what my grandfather did for me, passing down something to the next generation. My grandfather bequeathed his pens as he knew they would be no more use to him. He also gave me something that will last much longer than any writing instrument ever will. It is because of my grandpa that I have these silver strands in my brunette mass of hair.