My grandparents had a large brood of children: six in all– five girls and a boy. Every one of my grandparents’ kids had children of their own well before they reached the age of thirty. The townhouse was swarmed with grandchildren and the mongrel sounds that come with wee ones. My grandparents couldn’t have been happier.
There are pictures of us all, lined up on the floral patterned chesterfield. If one looks closely at these pictures, the pecking order of the grandchildren will be as plain as day. Lisa is and was the oldest. While her age was a great asset then, I’m sure she feels much differently about things now. Her parents were missionaries; their second child, Josh, was born in Sri Lanka only a week after the eldest male cousin, Adam, arrived on the scene. There was always a rivalry between them, which was caused by the proximity of their age.
I am the youngest child in those pictures. My hair was blonde then, and incredibly curly. I’m picking my nose in most of the shots, evidence of how far back my embarrassing habit goes. Even then, I seemed to provoke nurturing in the hearts of women. Cousin Lisa would mother me, save me from the bullying of older boy cousins, who made fun of my curls, my clothes and my middle name. I felt safe when Lisa was around.
There was a park at the center of the townhouses. In the summertime, I was allowed to go to the park so long as I was accompanied by an older cousin. I remember a slide for sure, and a merry-go-round, I think. Below the lower mouth of the slide, there was a deep rut, which was inevitably filled with muddy rain water. We often came back to my grandparents’ house completely covered in mud and were harshly scolded for tracking it into the house.
I remember lying on my back in that park, letting the ants crawl all over me. I wanted to keep them as pets, even though they started to bite when they grew tired of their forced domestication on my forearm. I lay on my back and looked straight up. I watched intently as the clouds slowly moved against a massive sky blue sky. All this was before I knew about death; I think blue was bluer back then.
Death came in November; my mom still reserves a special hatred for the eleventh month on the calendar. My grandfather was only sixty nine years old when he died. He’d had scarlet fever as a child. His body got so hot it damaged his internal organs, his heart especially. He’d had open heart surgery the week before the wedding of his only son, and according to those who attended the wedding, he looked like death as he performed the ceremony.
Grandpa died on a hunting trip. He loved to go hunting, though as he got older he no longer went for the kill; he made coffee instead, and kept the fire burning. He, my uncle Dale, and an old German friend of his were on their way out of the bush in a cream coloured Dodge Ram. They were singing hymns loudly in German, celebrating a good day out in the sticks, when my grandfather grabbed his chest and slumped over onto the shoulder of his son. He died minutes later.
We were at my father’s parents’ house when we got the call. I remember my mother bawling, though I wasn’t sure why. It was the first time I’d ever seen her cry. I didn’t like it. I couldn’t understand what they were saying as I sat in the back of the Volvo and we drove back home. She was too far away to console. The cracked, upholstered seat was incredibly cold. It was a pretty sad night.