On a cool November night when my brother was four years old, he sat in my mother’s lap leaning forward, drooling with anticipation; he had to know, what would happen to Lassie? My mother was gripping him tight, trying to hold him close as they watched Lassie fall in a hole; my brother’s body twitched in nervous agitation, the kind only inflicted by mortal danger to lovable dogs.
Click. “He’s at the ten, the five, touchdown!!” yelled the announcer. Tears flew from my brother’s eyes. He convulsed in my mother’s lap, yelling “Lassie! Lassie!” My mom turned around looking at my grandpa in his chair with her nose crunched up, brow furrowed and mouth gaping in disbelief. “Oh. You were watching that?” my grandpa said. “Oh,” he said and returned to watching the game.
Luckily there was another TV in the house so my mom could take my brother to another room to finish watching Lassie (Lassie was ok if you’re wondering). But, that’s how my grandpa was. His world revolved around him, and, for the most part, it revolved around sports.
The first thing he always said whenever he saw me was, “Well Matt, how’s the ball club this year? How much do you weigh?” For my grandpa that’s all that mattered. Since my brother graduated from high school and stopped competing athletically, my grandpa lost interest. But, it was restored when my brother started playing golf again regularly. All of sudden grandpa was interested. “What did he shoot?” He said with joy and interest. “How far is your brother hitting it off the tee?” He’d ask in blissful wonderment. He was infatuated with what our bodies could do; he was more of a spectator than a grandpa at times.
His love of the physical didn’t bode well for my sister; she was into theater and dance: grandpa wasn’t interested in theater and dance, so grandpa wasn’t interested in her. She received the requisite love of our grandpa, but nothing more.
My relationship with grandpa Bill? It’s different. We always connected better than any of his other grandkids because I was the most athletic. When I was little, I loved the attention. Whenever he walked in the door, I’d run up in my cowboy boots and hat and jump into his arms. As I got older we talked less and less, but whenever we talked, we talked about how much I weighed or if I could dribble a basketball between my legs yet. He would ask every winter when I played basketball, “how’s the ball club?” “Are you scoring any points?” Whenever I replied, he always said, “that’s just fantastic Matt. It’s so great.”
As a kid, I never saw anything wrong with these questions, I always thought grandpa just cared about the important stuff, but my brother, sister, mom, and all my other grandparents would make fun of him for this infatuation, so I started to see the obscurity with his obsession. Our relationship, started to grow distant especially when my mom, dad, brother, and I moved from Florida to Michigan.
When I started my freshman year of high school up north, I quickly became a successful athlete. I was a freshman moved up to varsity for the state basketball tournament on a team that was a state-runner up. I played great as a freshmen quarterback, and I lettered on the track team. Because of my success, my grandpa’s interest increased and our conversations increased. In part, I felt bad for him because none of his other grandchildren really wanted to talk to him. He decided that summer to come join us in northern Michigan
Summertime in northern Michigan is amazing, and there is plenty to do, especially if you can drive. I could not. So while my older brother drank with his friends on the lake, and my parents gallivanted about with their friends, enjoying the northern Michigan fudge and nightlife, I was left with grandpa. He followed me to all my football and basketball practices. He’d sit in the corner more focused than I ever remember seeing him, he made observations, ones that he always quick to share in the car with me on the way home, like “wow, the black kid was really fast,” “or, it’s a shame that tall boy isn’t coordinated, he’d be great for pick and rolls,” or “I think you have a nice ball club there Matt, someone to play every position.” I always felt a little embarrassed to have my grandpa staring from the corner, methodically sizing up “the ball club,” and my place in it.
Afterwards, we would come home, and I would take a shower. When I would come down the stairs after showering and changing, my grandpa would be sitting legs out, arms behind his head in the big chair with the TV on. If he wasn’t watching SportsCenter, he was watching the NFL network. I didn’t mind this for the most part; however, every hour of everyday spent in the sports world can wear someone out. My grandpa didn’t suffer from this affliction: he only reveled.
Time would pass as he sat in that same position with his legs laid out and arms above his head. The only movement he would make would be the constant twirling of his toothpick in his mouth. I’d run up and down the stairs from the basement and the first floor, where my grandpa was, trying to figure out something for us to do. The clock would slowly tick, and around 6:15 the bomb of boredom would explode in my head, so I would walk up to his chair, and try to remove him from his televised coma. I’d say “hey grandpa what do you want to do for dinner?” To which he’d reply, “oh Matt, what’d you make for dinner?”
“I can make us sandwiches or cook spaghettios,” I’d awkwardly reply. “Why Matt,” he’d say with the disdain for the food choices, not the fact I would be the one to make it and serve him, “that’s just silly, let’s go out to eat.”
I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, it was very nice of him to take me out to eat, but he shouldn’t have been driving a car. His tires eroded curbs and killed innocent house pets. His turn signals were non-existent, and his car had suffered more bumps than humpty dumpty.
“Well Matt, what do you want to eat?” he would ask, running a red light. “Subway sounds good,” I would reply gripping the “oh shit” handles, squeezing so hard my knuckles turned Winterfell white. “Yeah, you’re right Pizza Hut sounds good.” Swerving into the parking lot and clipping the lamppost, my grandpa’s car would sputter into a parking spot. Once inside, my grandpa would ask what I wanted (I can’t remember how many times I’ve told him I only like Cheese Pizza). I’d say, “I’m not much for toppings grandpa; I just like cheese pizza and breadsticks.” The waitress would come and she would ask for the order. My grandpa replied, “we’ll have the meat lover’s pizza.” We made it home safely that night, but not without going off the road four times and almost hitting a car while ignoring a stop light, the only stop light in all of Charlevoix, MI.
Over two years ago, I lost my grandfather. I say lost because I don’t think he was supposed to die. The doctors believe he had a minor stroke while in his garage, a stroke that wouldn’t have killed him. Under the paralysis of the stroke, he fell and hit his head on the garage floor. The doctors told my dad they couldn’t determine the cause of death and that they think he died on impact, but I know they are only saying that to soften the blow of the brutality of his death. His body wasn’t found for almost ten hours, the greater likelihood was that he had bled out.
I hated myself when I heard this because I hadn’t talked to my grandpa in two years. Since I had stopped playing sports, we had stopped talking. But in that moment, the moment I heard of his death, I recognized I missed him, like I used to miss him when I was a little kid, and he was the only one who would play with me. As I wrote this, I realized I missed him because he cared. Maybe he didn’t care if I ever had a girlfriend, if I could read or write, or if I wanted to be president, but he cared about me playing sports – that was his way of caring.
Throughout life, we experience love, hate, neglect, and even loss. All these feelings stem from our perceptions: we feel loved if someone loves us the way we want to be loved; we feel hate when we perceive someone deserves those feelings; we feel neglected when people don’t pay us attention the way we want to be paid attention to; and we feel loss when we feel a piece, physical or psychological, missing from us. I lost my grandfather, but in that loss I found his love, the love sitting in the corner methodically watching “the ball club” and how I fit into it.