Letters to Grandpa

July 11, 2013
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My feet hang over the edge of the old wooden dock where I’m perched, my toes barely skimming the cool water. In my hands I hold the last letter I ever received from my grandpa.

When I was younger my grandfather would always bring me out to this exact spot. We’d sit and talk, letting our feet dangle above the water - or, in his case, in the water.

He would bring me out here to tell me stories while we ate vanilla ice cream. He would tell me tales about everything: how he met my grandma, his children when they were young, and maybe even stories from when he was fighting in Vietnam. Nothing was off limits.

I was young, and sometimes I didn’t understand what he was talking about, but to me it didn’t matter. What I liked was being near him; having him wipe sticky ice cream off my chin. I liked it when his rough, scarred hand would hold my little smooth one as we walked off the dock.

What I liked most, though, was his promise of a letter every time we left the dock.

He never failed to keep his promise, even after he fell ill and couldn’t come to the dock with me anymore. We conversed over the phone instead, with him promising me a letter before we hung up. Sure enough - two days after every phone call or every dock visit - a letter would arrive in my mailbox.

I loved his letters. My grandfather had the most beautiful cursive handwriting I’d ever seen, and his letters were always as fascinating as a good book.

His letters would talk about whatever we had been discussing; they were like continuing the story with whatever he hadn’t been able to say at the time. They were private too; my parents never saw a letter from him, not even when I was young and had trouble reading his cursive. It was our thing, and I liked it that way.

After he died, I continued with the tradition. I’d write him a letter every week detailing what was going on in my life, and then I would take it down to the dock, along with the last letter I ever received from him.

That’s why I’m here now, holding two pieces of paper in my hand. One is wrinkly and yellowing with age, but the other is crisp and bright white. A bowl of melting vanilla ice cream sits next to me, half eaten.

I keep my toes in the crystalline blue water as I slowly lower my letter to Grandpa into the lake. As the wet paper drifts further away from me, I remember the last line in my letter to him.

I miss you. These are the last words in every letter I write to him.

I eat my ice cream slowly, pretending that Grandpa is here next to me, his calloused toes in the water beside mine, the way they always used to be. If I try hard enough, I can conjure up the memory of his laugh. I haven’t heard it in such a long time.

I stand up, gathering my bowl and his letter. Slipping my shoes on my wet feet, I walk back to dry land, leaving behind the promise of my return next weekend, with a new letter to Grandpa in my hands.

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