When we were little, going to my grandfather’s house was all about playing outside, in the trees. The area around the house was landscaped with nandina bushes around the front porch and a pink azalea under my grandmother’s front living room window. Growing up there was a small mimosa tree at the edge of the yard by the road that we climbed in. I remember the pink blossoms and the strange leaves it had, like something prehistoric, and beautiful.
But in the side yard grew a young sycamore tree that always amazed me by its size. I remember holding the giant leaves in my small hands and feeling so much wonderment… and looking up into the high reaches made me feel dizzy. I could hear the wind up there.
My grandfather went to Germany during the first world war. I have no idea exactly where or in what capacity he served. Long after he was able to come home, and had already raised his own family, I was born. He never spoke about that experience, that time of great sadness and war. But I remember my grandfather’s eyes more than anything else. They held a solemn stillness that covered so much.
So many wars later, the idea that humanity still wants to live in this way, well it shocks me more than anything. We’ve all seen the pictures now, whether we wanted to or not. It seemed that since Viet Nam the attrocities of war became somehow sensationalized and our warring nature only escalated.
I wonder how it would be, if I could once again sit beside my grandfather, and tell him about high technology, and super-sonic jets, about warfare in space, and how desperate mankind has become. I wonder what he’d think if I told him that culture had changed so much that music was now comprised of hundreds of different genres and styles, sounds from all over the world are available to us now. Would he cry a little bit, would his eyes become glassy as I did notice before, when we might just sit together quietly.
He had a stroke one day when he was 71, and it erased all of his present memories. He thought he was back in Germany, and he did not even know who my grandmother was. He found an old faded picture of a girl he knew in Germany back then, and some old letters, and he carried them around in his old shakey hands, and would try to show me if I would sit still long enough.
We didn’t see him much after that. Going out there just wasn’t the same at all. Sadness covered everything, and my grandmother seemed lost. I can’t even remember her voice now, because at the end, she hardly ever spoke, at least that I can remember. She passed away three months after my grandfather. She just gave up.
When I asked my mother what happened, she told me that Papa had disobeyed the orders of the doctor, and had left his sleeping porch and gone out to the old tall sycamore tree, and started to rake and burn a pile of leaves. He was just too old, and it was his time to go, and she told me that my grandmother had found him laying in the grass, rake still in his hands.
Many years passed, and after we had Google Earth, I googled my grandfather’s house. It looked so small to me, and beside the house in the side-yard, was what was left of the giant old sycamore tree. There it stood for the world to see, an immense tall spire that looked so surreal, so out of place, so bare, and so wrong…
I’m an old woman myself now, and last time I googled the old homestead, the old tree was completely gone. Like it was never there. And the old mimosa by the road looked broken and bent, as if it too, was very sad. The old front porch, with the big cement steps, was sinking into the ground, and the front porch that I played on all my life seemed broken as well.
I wish I could tell my grandfather that everything’s okay. That he doesn’t need to worry, not about me, or anybody. That there are good people that will restore our lands, and our waters. There are people that do not care about money and they will put the precious creatures of the earth before any monetary gain. I wish I could tell him that people had forgiven each other and that now no child ever went hungry. That people didn’t have to freeze in the winter, or work hard as children. That hungry angry men were not killing the wild animals and burning the jungles, but I can’t.
But I can tell him that we can still look up. And that we know a lot more about what’s out there than ever before. And it is true. We are just simple cave men, living on top of a crazy swirling ball of something… some people think it could be flat, and others wonder if its even real at all, only some crazy experiment gone wrong… I really don’t think that even matters, because once we get to leave this place, all the sadness and all the suffering can just float away, far far away.
I hope I get to see my grandfather again! And I hope we can walk together under a whole forest of sycamores. And my grandmother’s azalea bush is just enormous with huge magenta blooms, like giant feathers. Maybe it could be like that. We just start over. Wouldn’t that be funny…