Realization This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

January 10, 2012
By
On my eighth Fourth of July, I awoke hearing someone calling my father, “Kenny, Kenny, come quickly! Something is wrong with your father!” My father was out of the house before I even knew what was happening. I ran to the window to see my father sprinting across the lawn and down the path to the cottage next door where my grandfather was staying. The next two hours were some of the longest of my life. I didn’t know what was wrong next door, and at that time all I wanted to do was go to the parade. Although my mother, brother and I were quiet, we never heard the ambulance come or go. They did not use their sirens. By then, there was no urgency.

When my father returned, he slowly and quietly told us what had happened. My grandfather had died. My father said, “His death was quick and painless. He was dead before he hit the floor.” It took me a long time to realize that my grandfather had been in pain long before his death. . .

I loved my grandfather so much and I believed that we were closer than most kids are to their grandparents. I was born on his birthday. That was special. We even celebrated together once.

As I grew older I realized things about my grandfather that I never knew. Although he tried, no one was close to him except a bottle. He was an alcoholic. No one talked about it and they still don’t like to.

I remember finding old bottles deep in the woods around the house. Some I would have to dig carefully out of the dirt that entombed them. Others would be resting on fallen pine needles. I thought they were all great finds, valuable antiques hundreds of years old. Proudly I would bring my newly-found treasures to my mother asking her to wash and display them with her antique bottle collection. I could never understand why the bottles I found would end up in the trash, rather than displayed in the living room windows. Mine weren’t hundreds of years old. Actually they were signs of my grandfather’s pain. After draining the bittersweet bottles, he would throw them into the woods as far from his house as he could. He didn’t want anyone to know how much he drank because he was so ashamed.

Even when I was very small there were things that troubled me about my grandfather. I never knew what kind of mood I would find him in. The good moods sometimes lasted for weeks, other times less than a day. I just thought it was part of being old.

I remember some wonderful times: hot, summer days on the Cape. My grandfather enjoyed mowing the lawn with his Sears Craftsman mower. Often you would see his bloated body bounce around on the tractor, the same body that as a teenager he could fit through an unstrung tennis racket. His face was shaded by an old pith helmet, bought in Bermuda many years before - the kind you see in old photos of big game hunters shooting elephants. It kept his swollen red nose from getting sunburned. He would put me on his lap and let me steer while the mower did its work. We shared M and M’s from his pocket while he sipped on a diet Fresca. Whenever I smell a freshly mown lawn, I remember the tractor rides.

He also liked to work on his antique cars. I loved to go and visit him in the garage while he tried to restore the battered old cars. Sometimes he would let me sit in them and show me how they worked. Once we went for a ride together around the neighborhood in his old Model T. He enjoyed putting new life into the seemingly dead cars. Other times when I would go to see him and he would tell me to go away - he was busy. I would hang around trying to be extra good and helpful. I remember thinking I could make him happy by cleaning his garage. I was confused to find the same old, empty bottles in the garage I always thought were antiques in the woods.

The best time was the birthday we spent together. He gave me the greatest present: a set of real golf clubs, but in my size. They came in a shiny red leather bag. He loved golf so the clubs were a part of him and we were both looking forward to the day when we could play together. We were supposed to spend other birthdays together, but he always missed them. Everyone knew why he did not make it.

Today I try to remember the kind and gentle person that was my grandfather and try to forget the part of him that was stolen by a bottle. Sometimes while walking through the woods, my eye will be caught by a gleam of glass, a hidden bottle covered by leaves and pine needles. Before picking it up I try to decide: is this bottle hundreds of years old, valuable and worth keeping in a collection? Or, is this an empty bottle thrown away, discarded as were parts of his life?

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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