my dad called the other night and let me know that my grandfather had been asking about me. he was wondering what was happening with the various things i had going in my life. i heard a tacit accusation in my father’s voice, like a whining rasp through a not quite sealed window. maybe it was the way my dad conveyed the message, maybe it was just the sound of my own my guilt. i said, rather defensively, that i had talked to my grandfather just two days earlier. there was a beat of silence that held for a sec, within it the implied notion that maybe my grandfather had forgotten the call. he doesn’t have dementia or alzheimer’s, not that we can tell anyway. but he does get confused. he does forget things.
“anyway”, my dad said, “he seemed lonely, like he wasn’t making any friends.”
“well, he doesn’t like making friends. and he is lonely” i said, “the woman he spent his whole life with is gone, been gone for ten years.”
“that’s a hole he’s never gonna be able to fill; not in this life anyway.” as i said this i thought what a bitter condemnation this was. i wondered if this was unfair, if that was really true. i think it was.
“well, he has been playing bean bag baseball.” my dad remarked, as if this might have been proof to the contrary.
“yeah. have you ever heard of bean bag baseball?”
“uh, no. but, i guess i could imagine the premise.”
“they sit in chairs and throw beanbags” i could tell he was smiling as he said this. “apparently, he’s won the mvp award every time he’s played”
“excellent! that must be really good for him; the motion, the engagement. i’m gonna stop by there on my way up to mendocino. i’ll ask him about it. maybe i’ll even do a story on bean bag baseball; take some pictures and all that.”
a couple days later i did i stop in to see him. he lives in a beautiful retirement community in santa rosa. his girlfriend was there, whom he constantly complains about (she’s more trouble than she’s worth, etc.), and they were watching a giants game. i brought my kids and we hung out for a while, talking about life and the different things we had going. my mostly-ex-wife, met us there after an hour and hung out for a bit. then she took the kids and went to the sonoma county fair. i lingered for a while and eventually he suggested i get on the road before traffic kicked in. i felt like i should stay, but he wouldn’t hear of it. i just felt that maybe another hour would make a difference; to me or someone.
i finally left after a brief debate. a half hour later i found myself driving the familiar, curvy roads that led out to the coastal highway from the sonoma valley. i was alone so i could maintain the semi-perilous seventy mph turns. letting thoughts drift in and out, i sorted through the endless calculus of my life and it’s many parts. there’s things that i always have working in my head. some of them mean so much, others seem to leak out, forgotten. and then it hit me. i forgot about the bean bag baseball. i had made such a point of it, with my dad on that phone call. i had worked out a great storyline with the idea of doing a photo essay of all the ball player’s in the group. i wanted to let my grandfather know that i really cared about things that he was good at; the same way he always did with me.
it made me wonder if i had some early-onset alzheimer’s or dementia. or, if maybe forgetfulness just runs in the family. it occurred to me, though, that you don’t need to have old age or attrition to help you forget things. our memories and experiences, our thoughts, loves and actions all pass through the same portal. it’s indiscriminate and doesn’t bookmark the important things, at least not dependably. he’s lived long enough to know this. so he’s made a habit of always asking about the one’s he loves. even if he’s just talked to them.