Letter to My Grandfather

It was a scorching summer afternoon in 1975. I had just finished mowing the front lawn at your house in Fresno when Gram’s cousin Bob stopped by for a visit. After you and he had exchanged greetings, Bob looked at me sweating on the lawn and said, “My God, he looks like he’s from Moush,” referring, of course, to the place in Armenia where your father-in-law, Bob’s Uncle Vahan, was born. It wasn’t until later, after I had cleaned up and joined the two of you and Gram inside, that I found out Bob didn’t remember me, and had thought I was your gardener.

“Hell,” he said. “I didn’t know you were Harry’s grandson.”

I found this amusing, because I knew who he was all along and assumed he knew me, and that his remark had been made in that context. Instead, it was inspired by my reddish, already drooping mustache, as well as certain hints in my facial structure and physical appearance, which is another way of saying I had a big nose. And it’s true, my nose was bigger in those days, mainly because my face was a lot smaller. After all, I was only nineteen. Looking as I do today, shaggy, thick-headed, and misshapen, it would take a highly perceptive Armenian to discern that I have roots in Moush, and Bitlis, where Gram’s mother was born, and Sepastia, where you were born.

Since I am writing this on your birthday, I hate to mention that Bob shot himself a few years ago, and that it was no accident. But I know you will take it in stride, because the event pales in comparison to many of the things you suffered here on this earth, such as being born when your father had already been murdered by the Turks, or having to flee your home as a child and come to America only to endure the prejudice of those who foolishly assumed this country was theirs, or almost losing your life during the great influenza epidemic in 1918, or sacrificing one of your sons to the madness of the Second World War. In fact, I still remember what you said after the actor, Freddy Prinze, had committed suicide: “What could be so bad?”

When you were eighty, you were still manhandling the fifty-gallon drums we packed with the fresh green lawn clippings that I literally harvested from your front and back yards. Though you had retired and moved to town, you still farmed your land with a vengeance, cultivating and spreading fertilizer as if your life depended on it. You have to admit, it was a comical setup. But I understood your frustration, your need to be outside, your anger at the living and the dead, and how this was easier to face with a grandson around, especially one with strong farming instincts, a sense of pride, and a love for the outdoors. On one hand, you fertilized so much I had to be there. On the other, I was tied to your deeper meaning and identity, as well as your hope for the future. Either way, my presence was required — to comfort, to represent, and to help pass the time.

Though you probably already know, I want to say that I served with pride in those capacities, and drew just as much strength from working at your side, probably more. The fact is, I drew strength from you all my life, until your departure from this world in 1990, when you were almost ninety-four years old. Now I draw strength from your memory.

Happy birthday, Gramp. Today you’re 109. Don’t worry, I’ll blow out the candles for you. And as long as I am able, I’ll keep your memory — our memory — alive.

May 12, 2005

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Also by William Michaelian

Winter Poems

ISBN: 978-0-9796599-0-4
52 pages. Paper.
Another Song I Know
ISBN: 978-0-9796599-1-1
80 pages. Paper.
Cosmopsis Books
San Francisco

Signed copies available

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