Grandpa

by Cindy Arnold

       When I was 12 years old I killed someone, and it wasn't just anyone. I killed my grandfather. I loved him more than anything in the world and now he was dead. He was dead because of me. No, I didn't actually murder him, but I felt responsible for his death. Still, 20 years later I feel a little bit responsible. I guess I always will.

As a child I absolutely loved going to my grandma and grandpa's house. What I really loved was spending the night and eating breakfast Sunday morning. Grandma is the best cook. She would always fry up a big pan of bacon. I loved the crackling and popping sound the bacon would make. After frying up a batch, my grandma would pour the bacon grease into a coffee cup and my grandpa would take a freshly baked buttery biscuit and dip it in the cup of bacon grease and then eat it. He was what most might call obese. They were simple folks who moved from the hills of North Carolina to Aurora, Illinois in the mid 1960's. My grandpa was the typical back hills hillbilly who worked hard and had very little education. His parents had so many children, that they actually named two of them John. One of them being my grandpa. He had served his country in Korea and when he returned from the war he took a factory job. He had worked his whole life, and now it was time to retire. It was time to retire and do what he loved to do most. My grandpa would jump in the car and drive for hours. He really had nowhere to go, or nothing to do, but that was fine with him. He just wanted to drive and let the road be his guide. One afternoon I was visiting and grandma was going to send grandpa out to get us some lunch. She told him to get some sandwiches and fries. We already had pop at the house. I didn't want pop though. I just had to have a chocolate shake. Grandma told me I didn't need to get anything to drink since we already had the pop in the house. I was persistent though. I wanted that shake. With a big sigh, grandma finally gave in as she usually did and sent grandpa to get the sandwiches, fries and one chocolate shake.

After grandpa had been gone for an unusually long time, grandma received a phone call. Grandpa had been in a car accident. He wasn't hurt or anything though. What happened was, after making his purchases he was driving home. My chocolate shake started to tip and his instinct was to reach for it. He momentarily took his eyes off the road and he hit another car. It was all my fault. It was me and that God damn chocolate shake I just couldn't live without. My grandpa had a perfect driving record. That didn't matter though. It was just a small accident, no one got hurt. They took his license away from him anyway. I guess it was just because of his age. My grandpa would never get to do what he loved most. My grandpa would never be able to drive again. This was the beginning of the end.

Grandpa ate too much of the wrong things as it was, but now that was all he did. What else could he really do? He just sat in that old ratty recliner in front of the TV and ate and ate and ate. He obviously wasn't healthy to begin with, but all this eating of the wrong things made him very unhealthy. He became a walking time bomb. Days, then weeks went by and his eating habits didn't change. Eventually time passed and he began having chest pains, bad chest pains. Grandma called 911 and they sent an ambulance over immediately. They rushed him to Copley Memorial Hospital and ran a bunch of tests. It was no surprise..Grandpa had a heart attack.

The doctors seemed positive about the situation and assured us that everything would be just fine. And everything actually did end up being o.k. For a while anyway. He had his surgery and pulled through it like a trooper. After his brief hospital stay he was sent home with somewhat of a clean bill of health. Some time passed and Grandpa was doing great. He looked better, he felt better and everything was good again. Then, out of nowhere, Grandpa had a bit of a relapse and had to return to the hospital. It didn't seem to be as much of an emergency as it had been before, so it was my dad who took him to the hospital this time. They admitted him right away and immediately started running tests on him. Something was wrong again, but to be honest with you I really don't remember what it was. I was just a kid at the time and I didn't understand much of what was going on. I just knew grandpa was sick again, and this time he would be in the hospital for a long time.

During my grandpa's hospital stay my dad would visit him all the time. My grandpa had a lot of friends and family and he was never alone during this time. Sunday was my day though. My dad and I would wake up and he'd take me to Hardees. We both loved their biscuits and gravy and that's what we always got. I can still taste that gravy with the chunks of sausage and sprinkles of spicy pepper. It was the best. After Hardees, we'd head off to the hospital. Grandpa was always in good spirits when people showed up to visit him. He always had a kind word and a smile for everyone he ever came across. There he'd lie in his hospital bed, almost helpless, but he looked good. During one of the visits he gave me a silver dollar. For some reason, that shiny piece of metal meant everything in the world to me. It was because it had been given to me by grandpa.

Week after week me and my dad continued to have our Sunday at Hardees and the hospital. Since I was a kid I would get antsy a lot, so after visiting with grandpa for a bit I'd head over to the corner of the waiting room where they had the big table and all the puzzles. I'd buy myself a can of Coke and I'd sit there and put puzzles together. I remember building those puzzles so clearly as if it had just happened this past Sunday. Maybe because it was one of the few good memories I had of that hospital. Here comes dad. Time to go.

Sunday has arrived again, and time for more biscuits and gravy. If I didn't love the stuff so much, surely I'd be sick of it by now. Off to the hospital. It was a nice day out too. It was sunny and in the 70's and not a single cloud in the sky. We walked into the hospital and down the long hall to where grandpa's room was. It was different today though. Very different. I could see way down the hall and there were 4 people outside of grandpa's room. It was two men and two women. They were dressed as if they had just come from church. The two men were in dark pressed suits, and the two women were wearing dresses that they probably only saved for special occasions. Our walk to my grandpa's room seemed longer today. The hallway seemed longer, and even brighter. I felt like I was moving in slow motion. The fluorescent lights from above bounced up off the freshly shined floor tiles and reflected back into my eyes. As we got closer I could see the expressions on those stranger's faces. They were very somber and sympathetic looking. I turned to my dad and asked him who those people were and what they were doing outside grandpa's room. He turned pale and his speech crackled as he said plainly, "I don't know."

Those people were there for a reason. Those people were there to tell my dad that his father was dead. He had just died. We missed saying goodbye to him by minutes. I wonder if he was still in that room. I had never seen my grandpa's door closed before. I don't remember doctor's talking to my dad after that. I'm sure they did, but everything was now a big blur.

The next thing I can remember was walking out of the hospital. Both of us were quiet. Both of us were in shock, but it was about to get worse. As we stepped out into the parking lot, we saw my dad's sister coming toward us. She was coming to the hospital to visit her dad. She didn't know he had died. I know whatever happened next was horrible because I have absolutely no memory of it. No memory whatsoever of my dad telling his sister that their father had died. Obviously I've blocked it out because it's something I don't want to remember. I also have no recollection of my grandma being told that the man that she had married on her 15th birthday was dead. I would rather die myself than to ever see my grandmother upset.

After that, all I have are brief memories of his funeral. Since my grandpa was such a large man, the pall bearers had a difficult time carrying his body. In order to balance themselves they had to walk with their other arm outstretched. All I could do was pray that they didn't drop him. My dad had only cried one time in my life, but I was too young to remember it. Me and my mom had been in a bad car accident when I was a baby. Everything turned out o.k. though. Not this time. At the burial was the second and last time my dad ever cried. He cried for the father he would never see again. A tear flowed down his cheek and dropped off his jaw. Then, grandpa was lowered into the ground.

I still have that silver dollar he gave me over 20 years ago. It sits in my closet in a little white cardboard box. I take it out and look at it from time to time. I look at it and I remember my grandpa and I smile. I think about the wonderful memories. Then I think about how I killed him all because I had to have that God damn chocolate shake that I just couldn't live without.

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