Sunday, March 25, 2012


I haven't thought about this for years, and I thought I would share the story with you today.  Jake was talking about how he had "almost bowled 200" when he went bowling with friends from school last Thursday.  (Mental note, teach Jake how to "round up" properly.)  He was a wee bit away from 200 but it made me remember when I almost bowled a 200 myself.  But to tell you that story I have to tell you about my last memory of my grandfather.

My sister, brother, and I were out being big shots.  I think it was the first time we were this far away from home, together, without meeting our parents somewhere.  We were in our late teens or maybe even early twenties.  I don't remember why we were away but we were and we were relatively close to my grandparents' house in Fresno.  I remember it like I am there now.  The house across from the school on Blackstone.  The kitchen off to the right of the front door.  The sunken living room with the odd floor length structural shelf running about eight feet off the ground that at one point had a painting of a black panther on it..but not now.  The painting was my aunt and uncle's.  The giant HiFi in its wooden cabinet (that's a gigantic iPod for all you youngsters) playing elevator music that was a story in itself.  My grandmother fussing in the kitchen making us a meal for lunch.  Finally, there was Grandpa sitting at the far end of the table.

Grandpa had been slowing down a lot lately.  He had given up his car years ago.  Their many yearly vacations had ended too.  Groceries were being delivered rather than going out.  He was an avid bowler.  On a league with the same people for a very long time.  And yet, he had given that up as well.  He actually gave me his four-holed bowling ball at one point.  Always someone who had story after story to tell, today he sat at the far end of the table silently.  We all said hello but I am not sure grandpa did much more than look our way.  Our usually gregarious patriarch was content to just sit, listen, and eat.  Grandma kept the conversation going today.  We talked about what we were doing in our lives of school and work.  None of us commented on how odd it was to have a silent grandfather at the table.  I was saddened by what was happening but would never have been so rude as to talk about someone as if they weren't there.  Even if, in reality, it was obvious that he wasn't really one hundred percent there with us.

Grandpa had Alzheimers and it was robbing him of himself and robbing us of his personality and his stories.  Truth be told, any one of us could have started any number of his stories and stopped mid-sentence only to have another pick it up and continue on to the end without skipping a beat we had heard them all so many times.  About how he lost his dad as a boy.  About how he was replaced by a computer the size of a building and that let him have early retirement.  About how his sister embarrassed him on his way to work one day when she yelled out his nickname, "BABE!" on the cable car.  He could make me laugh by telling me just the punchline to a joke we had heard a thousand times before.  "I said LEFT!" was a favorite.  Today, nothing.

We all ate, I think it was soup and sandwiches but I will defer to my sister if she says I am wrong, and we weren't planning on staying for the night since that would have been a burden on Grandma.  And since we had a ways to go before we got home, we started to make motions like we were getting ready to go.  It was a process.  It has often been said that our family is the clan of the half-hour good byes.  We say we have to go...then talk some more.  We joke that we already said we were going to go...then talk some more.  We start to move toward the door...then we talk some more.  We go stand next to the cars...then talk some more.  My cousin Kim once told me, when my dad and I built a retaining wall around our front yard, that it would be the kiss of death as goodbyes go.  She said not only do we linger longer than anyone else in recorded history, now we have provided benches next to the cars!

Today we sat at the kitchen table sensing that the stand and chat by the door portion of our good bye would be minus a member.  It finally came down to the part where we finally put our hands on the table to start to get up when I remembered.  "OH!"  I said.  "Grandpa!  I meant to tell you!" I was a six year old again telling that I had seen a frog in the back yard.  "With your bowling ball!  I bowled my best game ever!  I bowled a 199!!"

With that news he started moving.  He never looked at me but put his hands on the arms of the chair and started to rise.  It looked to be considerable effort and it took him quite a while.  He raised slower than anyone I had ever seen and I was motionless.  When he was fully standing he reached out his arm and extended his hand.  I grabbed it and he shook it strongly, never saying a word.  And then he started the long process of sitting down.  We said our good byes to Grandma and we all left.  I never saw Grandpa again.  I also never got to break the elusive 200 mark on bowling.  That's OK.  If 199 is good enough for Grandpa, it's good enough for me.


  1. I miss those long goodbyes!,. Lots of great memories..

    Aunt Pam

  2. Jeff,I loved this. IT REMINDS ME OF OUR FAMILY? Ron always says we have to leave an hour before we need to go, or we won't make it out of there. Your grandpa reminds me of my Dad with his stories... I still miss him so much. :) Robyn

  3. Very nice story, Jeff. I miss those loooong goodbyes too. :)

    ~cousin Kim