27 Mar Grandma (Part I)
One of the lessons grandma once gave that stayed with me was about knowledge. “Knowledge can be so complicated,” She said. “We understand circumstances best through life experiences. Otherwise, they are mere words. We can speak words, write them when prompted to, and pretend we thoroughly understand them because we learned to use them in context. No matter how we use these words when we ought to or not, or how long these words are taken for granted, we will never comprehend them entirely without a happening, a personal life experience.”
She tried not to over-expound on subjects such as love, life, and death. Despite having had her share of rocks thrown at her by life, she believed that they remained the most complicated topics to explain to any child. She explained, “even when a child assumes an adequate knowledge of these three gifts, it is an entirely different story when they finally become the subject. It remains ambiguous what differing life experiences do to our understanding. A better understanding might be earned just like it will for most men, but not every child will come out of what they know the same way. It could be sweet such as in the case of a boy and a girl in love for the first time. It could taste bitter for a child who’s only known an iniquitous, wicked and vile world. It is a different ball game when a child loses a loved one for the first time; then the child will understand how sad life could be. How love can make life so gratifying, and when death can ceaselessly, or sometimes abruptly deprive it of any meaning.”
My first understanding of life was “curiosity” just like any child, and it sure got me into a lot of troubles. One day, my dad came back home with two of his friends, a plumber, and a policeman. He was furious. The cop and his two friends tried to mollify him. He had paid the plumber more than a few times to fix some broken water pipes in the house. However, the plumber had absconded, and it had been months without hearing from him. My dad was able to track him down with the help of his friends and a cop. He wanted the plumber arrested for fraud, but his accomplices had a better suggestion for him. Since the plumber had been crying and begging my dad not to have him locked up, they suggested they made him sign a contract stating what he’d been paid for and when the job must be completed. It seemed like a good plan until after the contract was drawn and it was time for the plumber to sign. They figured he couldn’t because he was illiterate. He could neither read nor write. So they all sat in a circle at the center of the living room, trying to figure what to do with the man. I was working on my homework while observing the incertitude which was beginning to infuriate my dad once again. I walked towards the middle of the grown-ups with my Bic pen pulled out of the plastic holder. My father turned towards me from where he sat. He knew I was up to something, but he didn’t have the time for it. So he yelled at me to leave the parlor. As I started to walk away, disappointed. One of his friends stopped him and called me back.
“Go on Ramon. I think you got something on your mind.” He said; curious what I was up to. I nodded, walked to the plumber and ordered him to extend his right thumb. There was extreme silence in the room as I pulled the head of my biro and blew two drops of blue ink on his thumb. I turned and walked back to the dining table where I was finishing up my homework. I couldn’t help but notice how the men eventually broke the silence, started to laugh and made fun of one another. “Imagine a six-year-old not only understands we could use a thumbprint in place of a signature, he knew exactly how to get one. Meanwhile, we are busy staring at each other confused about what to do with this plumber.” My dad’s friend said jokingly. I knew beneath my father’s stern demeanor, despite my intrusion, he was proud of what I did.
My first experience of deep affection wasn’t until my third year in primary school. It was bitter-sweet because I was the secret admirer. As hard as it was to describe the kind of love between my family members and me when I was a child, I discovered that I couldn’t afford to lose them. Regardless of what I hated or liked the most about each one of them, they were still part of me. I was sure that if anything took grandma away from me, I would be devastated. This brings us to death.
It won’t take losing only a loved one to feel the pain from the loss of life. As a matter of fact, all it takes is a mere acquaintance. As a child, it roused my inquisitiveness why people go through mourning phases, only because I didn’t understand what they were experiencing during such moments. My understanding only went as far as comparing what I observed to a healing process from a deep open wound that painfully took longer than they evidently wished. When I finally realized humans, once dead were never to be seen again, my family immediately came into perspective. It sounded more like forever, so it unsettled me. What if I lose grandma to death? Will I ever get to see her again? What would happen to me? So as life continued to bring death from time to time, I watched people cry from time to time, and then I wondered only about grandma, no one else but grandma. The love as I realized was different and much stronger than the type of love I felt for the girl in my class, who had no knowledge of my feelings for her. When I could no longer contain the troubling thoughts of losing grandma, it was for sure time to talk to her.
“Grandma, are you going to die? Will you ever leave us? How long do you have left to be with us? Can people tell when they will die?”
Finally, it was a perfect moment to seize to unleash such mind shuddering questions to grandma. I thought she was the only one who truly loved me. She understood me more than anyone else. There was no doubt that I would run into a raging fire to rescue grandma if I had to. I loved her that much. She was my interpretation of love. Without her, I believed life wouldn’t be the same. I had no idea how old she was, but she seemed hoary to me. My confusion was further complicated by the tremendous respect that comes with old age in my culture. Grandma gets a full truckload of those. Looking back, she must have been in her late sixties, much younger than I thought back then as grandma turned ninety-nine years old thirty years later.
“Grandma, I want to know how much time you have left before you leave us.” I persisted, sitting next to her on her favorite brown leather couch.
She was quiet for a few seconds, probably wondering what prompted a seven-year-old to worry that much about death. With a steady intent stare, she asked; “why do you ask Ramon? What did you see? What’s your worry?”
“If you die, grandma, we can’t see you anymore! We will be miserable without you!”
Grandma struggled with tears rolling down her face. With a scarf, she concealed them as she brought herself to her feet. After a little quietude, she began to walk toward her son’s room, my father. I went back to watching my tv show, my question unanswered.
You are my haven.
I could burrow up and down
Into the space between your words
And curl my back to loneliness.
Love is my refuge.
I could reminisce
About all that was more than words
And burn in memories of you.
Between joy and sorrow is knowledge,
And I could still pour my heart
Just to find
How to live you right – my solace.