As you look off into the distance, into the faraway place, sunset-splashed orange above a familiar mountain range, I wonder what you see. What memories do you visit as we investigate ancient land, searching for fragments of forgotten history? How do you meet the half-buried arrowhead, the buffalo skull frozen along a rivers’ edge, the rot and ruin of forgotten ranch houses?
Since I’ve known you, which has been always, you’ve been without time. For all you’ve seen and known, for all the joy and heartbreak in your life that could’ve kept you chained in the past, you’ve always been right here. Grandpa. For all the injuries and sick days, the football games I didn’t even play in, the concerts where I hit the wrong notes and the others where I only pretended to sing, you’ve been right here. For all the times I dropped out of school, and all the haircuts I didn’t get, and all the choices I made, and all the choices I didn’t, you’ve been here. Grandpa.
And as we walk side by side, the wind washing through mountain grasses you surely know the name of, I think of all the questions I could ask you. Somewhere in my head, buried, is time. Time wants to memorize things, wants your facts to keep, wants to know what you’re seeing when the tears form at the edges of your eyes. Time wonders if it was enough, if we’ll take one more walk or five, if you ever drank a beer, if you were scared as flak ripped through your paper-thin airplane on the other side of the world. Time wonders if you allow yourself to acknowledge your heroism. Somewhere back in time, I told a class of my peers that you were my hero and I had your pictures and stories to prove it.
When we reach the edge that looks down into a wide, silent valley, I follow your gaze. After a while, you hand me the binoculars.
“Anything?” I ask.
“Nothing,” you say.
I lift them and stare, wondering what you see when you see nothing. We’ve been staring at nothing–interspersed with a few chance elk sightings–for years, memories in a line that seem to explain how we got here. Here, where time seems to have run out. And in writing those words, I can hear you sigh…”Finally.”
The questions can drop, the trivia that never really mattered, and I can let you be here with me, where you always were and always will be, staring into nothing and everything, together. When I try and fail to fix a tractor, you’ll be here. When I’m hurt and scared, you’ll be here. When I meet a troubled person, a wounded soul, a frightened child, you’ll be here. When I am hurried and angry, rushing to the next moment in time, I will step back to be with you and your patience, and remember that whether in the woodshop or the passing lane, we are always and forever “doing fine work.” As I carry on with the business of living, the parts in time and the parts that aren’t, you’ll be with me. Always. Grandpa.