I have been thinking about my Grandparents a lot lately, more than usual. They are both gone now, and with them an era, that I wonder will soon be forgotten. An era of saving bread bags, napkins from Dairy Queen and fat from skillets. An era of tools in the shed and strawberries in the garden, and fresh, ironed sheets and vinegar and water cleaned, windows. An era of fresh-squeezed lemonade on the patio and plastic on the davenport.
My grandparents were characters. Visiting them was like stepping into a book, where it was normal behavior to go dumpster diving for things that could be brought home and made “good as new,” and meals were as sacred and as approachable as the Communion Table. Where neighbors were known, and people came to visit through the back door. Where hard work was valued above anything else.
I miss them. I wish they were here to provide a historical perspective on things. I wish I could ask them one more time about what they endured and what they overcame.
In my grandmother’s house, among her Swedish horses and Hummel figurines, between the two chairs always sat a little, velvet dog with shaggy ears and shaggy feet. He was really the only thing I was allowed to touch in the living room, and so I did. He was soft and real looking, with a black nose and inquisitive eyes. Grandma always said that he was her dog. For some reason, they could never bring themselves to get an inside dog. Maybe because it would be too expensive, or bring about too great of a mess, or be too much trouble, or chew up the couch, for whatever reason, an inside dog was replaced with the pretend dog that always behaved and never moved.
My grandmother died suddenly one day, leaving my grandpa with a house full of memories and tools and baking dishes. Gradually, they sold everything, including the house, and eventually his car. He moved into an assisted living facility.
The thing you need to understand about my Grandpa is that he never met a stranger. To a point of irritation, you could not take him anywhere without him talking to the the waiter, the cook, the mechanic, the teller and if there was a child in the room – forget it. He could not pass by a child without a smile, or a game, or a gesture of compassion. The other thing you need to know is that he was completely deaf.
What do you with a deaf, widower, who loves people but cannot engage in conversations? You get him a dog.
My mom found a little, white, shih tzu and brought him to his new home. He named her Mitzi, for that’s what Grandma would have wanted. From that day on, Mitzi and Grandpa were inseparable, and suddenly Grandpa became the most popular person in the senior living center. They would go for long walks, or she would ride proudly on the seat of his walker. She would crawl up on his lap and take long naps, and she was always willing to greet a stranger or engage with a child. She was his greatest gift.
Years passed, grandpa aged, and aged, and aged until he looked like Old Man Time. Eventually he slept more than he was awake, and Mitzi moved in with my parents and would come and pay him visits. Mitzi would jump on the quilt, right next to him and they would sleep from lunch until dinner, as the warm sun streamed in and the trees watched over.
Grandpa died at 99.
Mitzi died yesterday. She was 107.
I don’t know if two beings could have loved each other more than my Grandpa and Mitzi. Love stories that are real, are the stories that sometimes occur between humans, and sometimes occur between animals and sometime occur in communities. They are stories that always have an arc of trial and persistence. They are the stories that aren’t very exciting, but are rather, mundane, constant, and sustaining.
Alan de Bottom wrote on Love: “Perhaps it is true that we do not really exist until there is someone there to see us existing, we cannot properly speak until there is someone who can understand what we are saying in essence, we are not wholly alive until we are loved.”
While I cannot go back to those days of pies cooling on the counter and turns in the hammock, there is a presence that stays with me. It’s not sexy or particularly earth shattering. It’s there, like a little dog who will never leave your side. It’s a gift that says while the world may be different, and life will surely change again and again and again, one thing remains constant.
It can only be love.
Happy Valentine’s Day.