“Did Mom take those trash bags out of your backseat?” my Dad asked as I looked for my keys to go to the gym today.
I shrugged. “I don’t know. Did she?” I had come outside a few days ago to see three massive black trash bags filling the back seat of my car. I kept meaning to ask my parents what the hell they were, but every time I got home from the gym/errands/sneaky Dunks run I forgot to ask, more concerned about the possible flat tire I might have and getting out of my sweaty Star Wars leggings.
“That’s what I’m wondering. Are they still there?”
“They were yesterday. If she took them out today, I have no idea.”
My dad just nodded.
“What are they anyway?”
“My dad’s clothes. Mom was gonna do something with them.”
My eyebrows went up as I stared at him a moment. “So I’ve been driving around the past week with my dead grandfather’s wardrobe in my backseat?”
My dad smiled a little. “Yes, you have.”
I knew the day was coming and probably soon. Up until Saturday, I was 32 years old, had five grandparents and all of them were still alive. Most of my friends had lost at least one, some all of them. So when my grandfather died this week on his 87th birthday, I wasn’t shocked. But death always takes you by surprise anyway.
When I was born, my parents and I lived with my grandparents and my two great-grandmothers. Living with my grandfather that first year of my life probably made me more comfortable around him as a kid. He had dentures and I thought it was hilarious to reach into his mouth and pull them out. I don’t know what’s weirder: that I did that or that he let me.
His greeting to me was never just a hug and a kiss. It was a sneaky smile with his hands up like he was creeping up with his attack hug. He loved bread and butter (on Italian bread, of course) and he always gave me as many slices as I asked for (I’ll blame him for that particular carb love). He didn’t ask me questions I hate/d to answer. Not how school was going or what I did for work now. He didn’t try to think of things to say to me just to get me talking. He was fine if I didn’t want to say anything but he listened if I did.
I remember sitting with him once on my aunt’s back porch as my cousins ran around the yard, just talking about whatever a six-year-old talks about with her grandfather. We got on the subject of being old.
“You won’t see me when I’m an old woman,” I said.
“Nope,” he said. “I’ll be in Heaven.”
Toward the end of his life, I didn’t see my grandfather as much. I think the last time was at my cousin’s wedding. I don’t remember talking to him. Nothing sticks out from the event. Maybe that should be unsettling to me, but I’m at peace with it. There aren’t enough memories of the end of his life to overshadow the memories I have of him when he was “one of my favorite relatives.” That’s the way I want it.
I came out of the gym today and looked at those bags of clothes. I thought about opening them up and looking at them. Instead, I just touched the outside. I could feel the outline of the stacks of fabric and it felt as real as if they were on a person. On him.
And then I drove home, talking to myself, drinking my latte and blaring Hanson from the stereo.
So that’s going to be my last memory with my grandfather. Driving around with pieces of him in my back seat, while I went on being nothing but myself.