Memories are a funny thing. A lot of the time, they’re not real. Often, they’re colored by nostalgia, or pain, or anger, or love. They’re colored by the person we are now, more so than the person we were then. In the same way that history is an interpretation, based on what we know now, maybe memories, too, are based on who we are now. Was Grandma’s pot roast really the best pot roast ever? Was Grandpa’s voice so deep it rumbled?
My Grandma’s pot roast was, indeed, the best pot roast ever, and I can’t be proven wrong at this point. I don’t, however, remember my Grandpa’s voice being deep. In fact, I have very few memories of my Grandpa, and none of them involve his voice. I remember walking hand in hand down the hill by the house at Christmastime, looking at the Christmas lights strung up on the houses. I often wonder if that’s why the sight of Christmas lights make me smile, regardless of how dark my mood. I vaguely remember him hanging a swing on the branch of an avocado tree and pushing me on it.
I also remember him dying. That’s the only other memory I have of him.
My mom and I lived with my grandparents at the time. I believe I was 5 or 6. I was eating in the living room, watching TV, a TV tray in front of me. The memory here is a little fuzzy – for some reason I remember me sitting on the coffee table, but that can’t be right. I remember my grandmother calling my grandfather to dinner. And calling him again. I remember her walking down the hall, past the archway to the living room. She always had an almost militant march about her walk, I never realized that before now. Do I remember her screaming? Do I remember the ambulance arriving? I remember peeking into the bedroom and seeing him laying on the ground, upper body in the bedroom, lower body in the bathroom, where he had been combing his hair. He was in an undershirt and boxers, not yet dressed for dinner. Black socks, with those little sock garter belt things. I remember him on the stretcher, in the bedroom, the paramedics working on him.
But wait. I also remember visiting him in the hospital. Actually, not visiting him in the hospital, because I wasn’t allowed, but he was on the first floor, and they took me by the window so I could wave in. Is that a separate memory? Is that the same time the paramedics came? Did he die in the hospital? Or was he in the hospital before that, for something else? I don’t know. Maybe this memory of the hospital isn’t a memory at all, maybe it’s just my imagination. I was so young. I seem to also remember my mother arriving at the house on the fire engine, standing on the back and holding onto one of the bars, her long hair flowing out behind her in the wind, but that can’t be real. So what other parts of my memory aren’t real?
I should ask my mother. But why? What would it matter? Would it change my memory? Would it make my grandfather not dead?
The first Father’s Day gift I ever gave, ever made, was for my Grandpa. He was the only Dad I knew for the first six years of my life. I barely knew him, I barely remember him. But I miss him, I miss his love.