Every morning two pairs of hands reach for my coffee cup. Beyond the warm mug is a reflection of Norman's hands - a constant throughout my childhood. This special man, while no blood relation, was nothing less than a grandfather to me.
One of the things that I remember most about Norman was his keen sense of responsibility. Norman was unhappily married, but because he was Catholic and did not believe in divorce, he stood by his wife and daughters for twenty years. As Norman's children grew, he finally considered leaving his wife, but then she became ill. Norman lived with a woman he did not love; he cooked and cleaned, and changed her diapers.
Because my father was often away during my childhood, Norm was a better father than my own. He and I would go fishing and play catch. He bought me my first bow and arrow. He taught me about honesty and responsibility, and perhaps the most important thing - self-respect.
Norm loved to do crazy things. One year we had a family party for my birthday, and my grandmother was stressed out trying to keep everyone entertained. Norm thought that it would be a good idea to punch little holes in all the plastic cups. So when Gram poured the lemonade, it mysteriously leaked. She grabbed another cup and another, and another; they all leaked. Gram saw us laughing, she asked, "Who did this?" Norm and I could not control ourselves. Norman replied, "It was Megan." But Norm finally admitted responsibility, and apologized.
Norman's hands were so strong and youthful that I never noticed his aging - his illness consuming his bright smile. His tight grip on his coffee mug slowly weakened as his hold on life relaxed. Norman was a man of great pride; his independence and determination helped him to survive the Depression, World War II, and a difficult personal life. Norman suffered a stroke and was hospitalized. While in the hospital trying to eat, he put his still youthful hands in his food; that hurt him. Norm never wanted to die that way - helpless in a hospital room. He recuperated and worked for hours with a tennis ball to regain coordination.
Even the day he died, Norm went to the convenience store for his paper and then to my grandmother's house for coffee. He sat, his hands around the mug, just as he had for twenty-five years. That night he died.
Norman's death devastated me for years. I still have an ache in my heart and a tightness in my throat when I think of him. Norman was my angel and my guide. Now his memory is my conscience. When a decision plagues me, I ask Norm for his advice, and he shows me what is right and wrong.
Looking back, I realize I lost my way and much of my self-confidence when he died, but his love and respect will always help me in life. He would not have wanted me to become a victim of society's changing morality or to ignore my love of learning. I still listen to Norm's advice. The exact tone of his voice is fading from my memory, but his words are etched on my soul.
My fondest memory of Norm is a spring ritual. Every year, in late April, Norm and I would go to the "hoods," the old paths behind my grandmother's house, in search of mayflowers hidden beneath the frosty glow left from winter's wrath. Now that he is gone, a part of me is still roaming those woods - the strong and confident child beneath the icy snows. c
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.