We called him Grandpa Richmond. Though we saw my maternal grandfather only once a year, our anxiety over the visit began weeks earlier. We’d plead futilely with our mother to please, pretty please, skip this year. Even though he’d given her up in divorce when she was five, even though he kept her brother in Richmond, my mother never gave up on him.
|My mother and grandfather|
On a Sunday, my younger sister and I would pass the long two hours on Route 95 I-spying blue cars and giving the universal horn-tugging signal to truck drivers. No trip was complete without a stop for stacked, syrupy goodness at Aunt Sarah’s Pancake House. We dawdled over our plates as long as possible, before our sulky return to the car.
In Richmond, we would park in front of the row house on Floyd Street and creep up wide porch stairs. My grandfather’s second wife, a wafery blonde with sallow skin, a sourpuss smile and missing finger, would open the screen door and motion us inside.
At the end of a long dark hallway, Grandpa Richmond waited in his wheelchair, one leg dangling in front of him, one trouser leg tied up to his knee. We were told to kiss his white-whiskered cheek as he closed his toothless mouth and raised his face toward us. After a hello Zisela from his rusty voice, we were dismissed to the front room where we scooched far into the sofa. Hello Papa, my mother would say.
Now I scold my eleven-year-old self for not embracing him on the last day I’d ever see him. For not asking him questions about the old country, about Richmond, about his part in the Great War, his grocery store, bootlegging whiskey. He sacrificed a country, a leg, a daughter to scratch out a better life while I cowered in the corner.
For those of you who asked questions, who have journals and hand-me-down memories, I envy you. I don’t know his story, or hers, for that matter. But I will make it up.