My maternal grandfather—Alfred—is a kind, goofy man. He still likes to tell ridiculous jokes to his grandchildren even though we have all far passed the age that we could consider them funny. “Three men were out hunting for bears when they came across a sign that said, ‘Bear left,’ so they went home.” Big chortling laugh erupts from him; weak chuckles forced out from everyone else. Apart from being old enough that it would no longer reduce us to hysterical tears of laughter, we had heard it at least ten thousand times before. When Grandpa and his twin turned 90, he told that very joke to about fifty people at the birthday party he managed to finagle the rest of the family into planning at his favorite ramshackle traditional Italian diner: Laura’s Pleasant View Diner. Linguini and clam sauce dinner, $2.99 on Mondays. Nobody on Al’s side of the family has lived past 90, and most lived exactly until 90, so Grandpa is certain that he’s going to die this year. His daily sleeping amount is already encroaching upon totality, as if attempting eternal sleep is his way of breaking it to himself gently.
Grandpa has an amazing memory, but only for things that were in the more distant past. Ask him about an event that occurred at least 50 years ago and you’re golden. But it’s been eight years since I started dating Colin, and I’ll be darned, Grandpa can’t remember his name more than one out of five times that I ask it of him.
I sat in his ancient squashy blue arm chair one time and looked around, viewing the world from the vantage point Grandpa occupied for at least seven hours a day. He had his own telephone with special amplifying speakers that allowed him to hear the conversation despite his near-total deafness, but allowed the whole house to hear it too. Underneath the phone was a single large yellow post-it with the words written in shaky but careful capital letters: COLIN. I removed it, thinking that he can’t keep his safety blanket forever… He’ll never learn on his own when he has a permanent cheat option. For a while after that Grandpa didn’t remember his name one out of twenty times I asked him, and finally at dinner one night I teased him about it and he looked at me mournfully and said in a quiet voice, “you know Elena, I’m old and my memory is not too good anymore.” I could barely swallow my food past the lump in my throat after that. I thought of replacing his sticky note, but instead I asked him what Colin’s name was every single time I saw him or called him or emailed my Grandma, determined to show him that he could remember. When my Grandma called me the other day to say hello, I heard him yell excitedly from across the room, “How’s CAH-LIN?”