They say that the eyes are the windows of the soul. In my moments of early purification, this was my view. This was my family and like you or anyone else in the world, we come across our early visions to people who are the family’s royalty. Like, Grandparents. Like Grandmothers and the touch from a hand with skin, so soft, like the flesh of a velvet rose and so warm like the spirit of unconditional love. There is nothing quite like this and there is no love to match its equal.
Can you see her?
There she is, sitting right over there in our living room. She is smiling and proud. Happy to be welcomed and loved. Grandma is happy to offer her own special brand of chicken soup.
That’s my Grandmother, Grandma Lena.
She is the matriarch of the family with silver hair and a warm, soft, raspy voice which was perfect for bedtime stories.
I am sitting by her side. Can you see me? That’s me, right there.
Young as ever and to her, I am the youngest son to her middle child.
Untouchable and unpunishable.
Perfect to her.
The Old Man showed a special reverence to his Mother. I knew this, even from my early age.
Grandma was a queen or at least it seemed this way.
The Old Man’s level of regard and humility was amazing to me – the way that he listened and the way that he honored his Mother; The Old Man was not like this on other occasions. He was very serious and often impatient and sometimes a bit too hard. But not when Grandma was around.
No, this was not allowed.
See him, over there. The Old Man is walking around, fixing things, keeping busy and showing his respect by making sure everything is ready for his Mother, my Grandma.
I suppose it’s obvious to say this was years after his youth, which was wild. This was years after The Old Man’s service in the Army Air Corps, in which The Old Man enlisted in 1945 at the end of the war, which was supposed to end all wars. But boy, did we get that one wrong . . .
This was years after The Old Man’s first marriage, which ended poorly and years after The Old Man had his own trials and tribulations. This was years after his frustration and years after the Old Man’s tensions and unresolved challenges.
I never knew much about the earlier years of my Father’s life. I only knew some of the basics, which I was told that I was too young to know about and that, without any further questioning; this was none of my business.
Then again, it’s true. I was too young to inquire and perhaps I was too young to have the ability to understand. But nevertheless, I was a sponge. I was a witness. But either way, that’s me in the family room. This is our home, to which The Old Man was proud of, to which he took care of, and to which he paid for with the blood and sweat – and of course, with the agonies of being self-employed with his own company, The Old Man always seemed uncomfortable about something or worried about life and business (or perhaps he was worried about both at the same time).
But not when Grandma was around. Not at all.
This was not allowed.
Come to think of it, I was strictly prohibited from playing with The Old Man’s tools.
I’m not sure if this was because I was too young and that I might get hurt or this was because my Father needed his tools for work. Either way, my desire to touch The Old Man’s tool set was because I admired him. I admired the fact that he could build things.
He could fix things and yes, to me The Old Man knew at least something about everything. Maybe this is why I would take out one of his screwdrivers or wrenches and play with them. Maybe I was pretending to be him.
He would tell me not to.
He would reprimand me and yell if I took out his tools.
But not when Grandma was around. No, not at all.
I know this because I lost one of The Old Man’s screwdrivers. It was a small one, which I was proud to handle because I was small too and thus; maybe this was my start at understanding how to fix the world. But in fear of the punishment, I began to cry because I swore the punishment would be tough and strict.
I lost his screwdriver!
Grandma Lena saw me crying and she rushed to me.
I told her I was in trouble and how The Old Man was going to kill me, which I admit was more than a little dramatic.
However, fear of punishment and fear of a spanking is enough to equate with death to a boy at the age of a single digit number.
Was I punished, you asked?
No, not with Grandma Lena in the house.
I have younger visions too, which are more like tiny captions to me. I have small memories of an upstate cottage in the country.
This was my Grandmother’s place.
There’s Dave, my Brother. He’s over there with our family dogs, Tammy and Sheba. Can you see them?
They are running around in the middle of the compound where the picnic tables are set off to the side.
Tammy and Sheba – they loved Grandma too.
They loved her more than anything or anyone else. Maybe this was because of the way Grandma fed them or maybe it was because the way Grandma spoke to anyone was perfectly soothing, with love in her voice, which could solve any pain or calm any fear.
The cottage was small. It was perfect too.
Although, to be clear, I hardly remember anything about this place.
Just little pictures in my mind.
It’s more like something that remains in me or like something I could only see in a hypnotized state – and if I were to hover in this state; I could see everything and I could feel the innocence of the time. I could feel the warm celebrations and the practice of unconditional love, ongoing and unending, perhaps heaven-like and saved like the gates of deliverance to a pasture as pure as The Mother of God.
There’s Mom, smiling by the picnic table, happily as could be. And right there, there’s The Old Man, loyal to his Mother and loyally in service to her, making sure all is well and everything in the cottage is working, fixing a hinge on the front screen door. The Old Man took this role seriously – especially after the death of my Grandfather which was a time that came before me.
I don’t know much about my Grandfather.
I only know that I am his namesake. I am named after him, Benjamin, and maybe this was something that triggered the remnants of pain for my Old Man.
Maybe there was some unfinished business between them. Maybe this is why The Old Man would be so easily frustrated when I didn’t understand something or when I had troubles with reading or in math.
Maybe he just wanted me to “Get it” and he couldn’t figure out how to help me, which is why I equate this with a connection to my Grandfather, AKA Grandpa Ben.
Maybe this is why The Old Man would take me to the cemetery and he would have me sit over by the car while he sat at his Father’s gravesite. He’d sit down by the headstone to open up to my Grandfather. He’d talk about the personal woes, challenges and the life that he created for himself. I’m sure he tearfully shared his celebrations as well with the sentiment of “I wish you were here.”
As the author of this note to you and as a witness of my Old Man, I have to admit this: I can relate.
I can understand the measures of unfinished business; and while understandably, all debts are settled at the hour of our death – I get the fact that this is not so for the living. I get that life will live on for those who remain. For some, there is inventory. There is emotion to deal with.
There are unresolved tensions without closure. I get that now. I really do because as an adult and as a person who has lost loved ones, I understand the need for closure.
I understand the call for redemption and salvation – to save the soul and rescue the emotions of say, a boy-like appeal of looking upwards to your father with hopes to be approved. I get it now.
As well, I understand the wreckage of our past and how we are capable of doing things which hurt other people or divide our relationships. Though we are alive, we have died in some ways because of the losses we’ve felt. Sometimes, a moment comes when we wished we had the chance to say things to one another when we were all alive and in the flesh. But sometimes, life has other plans.
I get that now.
This little cottage is something I keep in my head.
I relate to as a moment of peace, where all was right, and no one is angry.
I can remember low-flying planes, like crop-dusters, and I can recall the peaceful sound of their tiny engines as they flew overhead in an unblemished sky.
This was the most serve and country-like theme I can imagine – and there, beside a stream is a picture I have in my mind of a weeping willow; a symbol, perhaps a sign of love and of reverence and a vision to appeal to the aches of the heart – to heal us eternally.
I can remember fields of grass, tall as ever, and how the grass swayed with the breeze – and to my best assumption, I believe there is a place like this in Heaven (if such a place exists) where everything is summery and calm. There is no pain here. There are no spankings. No one is angry. No one fights.
There’s a picnic table where all are welcome and everyone can eat together.
Oh, and there’s corn. Big ears of corn, sweeter and more buttery than you can possibly imagine.
Grandma’s here to tell her bedtime stories like Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs. And oh, there was the story about Cinderella Nusbaum, which was a different princess story from the Bronx.
This is a bedtime story that I fail to remember but somehow, I believe this was my favorite.
If the windows are the eyes to the soul; then there is a part of me with hopes that at my step towards the doorway of the afterlife; this is what I will see.
No weeping. No punishments for the mistakes or losses.
None of that happens.
Not when Grandma Lena is around.