Worth A Thousand Words

I have a million memories of my grandfather. He's the person who taught me how to read a stock prospectus and a racing form. He bankrolled my first trip to an Atlantic City casino, although I doubt he was aware of it at the time. He and my grandmother used to take me out to dinner at the Palmer Dairy Bar when it was still around. He was with me the first time I remember eating fried clams, and I think it's because he liked soft-boiled eggs and strawberry shortcake and rice pudding and peaches in cream -- actual peaches, sliced up in a bowl, with actual cream poured on top -- because he liked these things, I used to eat them when I visited my grandparents as a kid, and they still take me back to my youth when I eat them today.

What I don't have are many pictures of me and my grandfather together.

I think that having a digital camera throws into stark relief how really different his generation and mine are. Were. Whatever. To me, it is no big deal to take 300 pictures in a single afternoon, but back in the day, when everything was on actual film and developing cost money that we didn't always have, pictures seemed like more of a luxury. There are pictures of us together somewhere, no doubt, probably in my mother's attic and closets somewhere, but it took me hours of the last few days to find only a fraction of the quantity of photos of the two of us that I was able to find of him and my daughter together in only a few minutes.

And the weird part is: most of the pictures that I can actually find are things I don't really remember.

Rachel and Poppy

Maybe the best picture I can find of us is a picture of him dancing with me at a wedding. I can provide context -- it was the wedding of a good friend of the family, the sister of one of my aunt's ex-boyfriends who also happened to live up the street from me until I was 11 years old, and I was one of the bridesmaids, and I can't remember the exact year, but you can tell from my hairdo that was most definitely during the Bon Jovi era, probably right before I starting dying my hair with Kool-Aid and listening to The Cure, and the happy couple twirled around the dance floor for the first time as man and wife to "I'll Always Love You" by Taylor Dayne, and afterwards I repurposed that pink dress, shortened the hem to tea-length and then wore it when I went to the "Prince & Princess" dance in 9th grade with my first really big heartbreaking crush who ended up spending the evening trying to get one of my classmates-slash-arch-nemeses to make out with him in the corridor by the lockers, so I guess the wedding must have been in 1988 or early 1989, when I was 13 or 14 -- but I cannot remember one thing about being in that wedding, except that there were like eleventeen people in the bridal party and my sisters were junior bridesmaids and the reception was at the Elks Lodge and the bride and groom are now divorced for about 10 years.

For sure, I don't remember this moment when I danced with my grandfather, when we were both smiling and happy and clearly having a good time, and more than anything in this world right now, I wish I could.

There are pictures on my hard drive of my grandfather dancing with one of my sisters at my wedding, and with my other sister at her own wedding, and I swear that I can close my eyes and remember every single thing about those times, even though I am not even 100% positive that I was even actually there when the pictures were taken -- I can hear the music and tinkling flatware and smell the food and wafts of perfume and feel the love and laughter in the reception halls, but I just cannot remember ever dancing with my grandfather like this, standing close and letting him hold me, just being near him.

And I would give anything, absolutely anything, if I could.

Already I have forgotten how handsome my grandfather once was, so tan from being outside all summer long, tending his gladioluses and strawberries, skimming and vacuuming the pool, playing cards and having the occasional beer, drinking ice water from my great-grandmother's tin tumblers and eating tomatoes fresh off the vine like they were apples. Almost a mythic creature, a well-aged classical hero with his shimmering silver hair and his strikingly blue eyes and the birthmark on his temple shaped like a heart. He spent most of his last two years in that damned chair in his living room, watching baseball or Notre Dame football or cable news, his health and his strength and his color slowly waning, leaching out of him into the ether somewhere. He was not himself at the end, not the Poppy that I will always see when I close my eyes and think about summertime and slot machines and strawberry shortcake.

Dear God, I miss him so, and I will lay awake nights for the rest of my life trying to remember all those moments that have not been captured in pictures.

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