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Grandfather Billy, hmmm, where to start? For me it started when I was in kindergarten, so I guess I’ll start there. It was a cool summer morning at Grandfather Billy’s house in Connecticut, and I had just woken up. After I got dressed I rushed down the stairs to see what was for breakfast. The walls were green, the kitchen was small, and it had one well-used oven that could fit only a single cake. As usual at this time of the morning only Granny Annie and my sister, Shannon, were awake. Granny Annie was busy cooking bacon, eggs, sausage, and pancakes, while my sister and I raced to the kitchen counter to see who could squeeze the oranges the fastest.
“Grandfather Billy? Can I have a puddle?” “Sure kiddo.” “Thank you!” “You’re welcome Kevin.” that was all I had to say before I wolfed down the pancake drenched in a big puddle of pure, sweet maple syrup and asked for another. Granny Annie’s pancakes were the greatest and Uncle Billy made them really special with the puddles of maple syrup. All my parents and Granny Annie could do was laugh, and laugh. “You fatty!” Shannon said. “Am not!” I screamed. “That’s enough you two,” my dad hushed us at that moment. I could see that he was upset because of how we were acting as guests in a friend’s home. After I finished my breakfast I went outside, and sat on the front porch just contemplating how wonderful the food had been. At that moment Grandfather Billy stepped onto the porch and asked if I wanted to go canoeing on the pond next to the house with him and my sister. I said I didn’t feel like going, but the truth is I was afraid of the water.
“Come on Kevin, you could go with me,” mom said. I thought about it for a moment. Finally again I said no as my sister, Grandfather Billy, and my mom scurried into the canoe so it wouldn’t tip over. Then my dad and Granny Annie ambled over to me so we could sit and watch together.
When they were finished counting, I started throwing rocks to try to get them to skip along the top of the water, but it wouldn’t work, so Grandfather Billy showed me how to hold the rock. I held it like he showed me. I reared back. I let my arm fling around like a whip. The rock flung into the water. It still didn’t work. Then he showed me the angle to throw it, and low and behold, on my next throw it worked like charm. My mind was boggled. Just the thought of me actually throwing it the right way to make it skip tickled me.
For dinner that night we had either turkey or chicken I don’t remember which. All I know is, IT...WAS...AMAZING. Granny Annie is a great cook.
The next morning, after we ate, we took a ride down a very rough dirt road. After we’d gone about a mile the car stopped and I looked out the window and as far as the eye could see, there were blueberry fields. Blueberry fields with bushes that stuck up in the air about six to seven feet, as far as my four year old eye could see. “Race ya,” I egged my sister on. “You’re on,” she said.
We leaped into the scraggly stems of the blueberry bushes not knowing where to go next. All I heard was the sound of leaves cracking and snapping under the weight of my feet, and very faint but prominent yells of my parents, Grandfather Billy and Shannon boasting that she’d won. When we finally found our way back to where we had started everyone was waiting for us. For some reason the last thing I’d ever expect would have come from Grandfather Billy’s lips came out: “First person to garb as many blueberries as possible in fifteen minutes wins.”
Of course Grandfather Billy let Shannon or me win. And of course Shannon didn’t let me win. But, Grandfather Billy told me how proud he was of me none the less.
After the blueberry experience we had a picnic. I don’t remember what we ate at the picnic but my sister had other plans for me. Instead of letting me eat my food in peace, she snatched the food right out of my hands and took a giant bite out of it and said, “Here you go!” as though nothing had happened. Grandfather Billy gave some more and said I didn’t have to eat what I didn’t want. We left the next morning.
Beginning of spring break. Now, we hadn’t been to Grandfather Billy’s and Granny Annie’s house in a while, so my parents wanted to see how things up in Connecticut were going. The family went up and found that Grandfather Billy had been sick. So the morning we got there Granny Annie had some bacon, eggs and pancakes. When Grandfather Billy came down the stairs I was ecstatic. I asked him if I could have a puddle and the look on his face showed how much he remembered me as a little kid running around all care free. Other than that, there didn’t seem to be any wrong with him. I watched him as he poured the maple syrup into a puddle big enough to fit my entire shoe. It must have been a quarter of an inch deep. I dug in like normal.
A couple years after that last visit my parents got a call from Granny Annie saying that Grandfather Billy had passed away. When my parents told me this I was in shock. I couldn’t believe this was happening.
The day before the funeral we were at this grand building across the street from the cemetery. The room was round with a dome top. My dad called it a rotunda. It was on the campus of Yale University. There was a hole in the floor where Grandfather Billy’s ashes were setting in an urn and a group of men were singing acappella. I remember just standing behind my dad staring at the ashes with tears stinging my eyes. The name of the singing group was The Whiffenpoofs. Grandfather Billy used to be a member of the group.
That night I couldn’t sleep. I was too sad to contemplate the thought of sleeping. I kept remembering Grandfather Billy. Finally with the help of my mom and dad I cried myself to sleep.
In the morning Granny Annie tried to keep things normal. She cooked everything she always would when we came over. And when my dad came down the stairs I thought it was Grandfather Billy for a second and instinctively asked, “Can I have a puddle?” There was no answer. I looked over my shoulder and then all the memories of the night before came flooding in. I started to cry and left the room.
After Spring Break of third grade I came back to school trying to get back to my normal life as soon as possible, and it worked for a couple days. Every time the teacher tried to get to say what I had done over Spring Break I told her I wasn’t ready to tell everyone. And on the tenth day she asked me I told everyone my grandfather had died, and she had just figured out why I’d been hesitant to tell everyone.
When Cinco de Mayo came around the next year it had felt like my grandfather had died ages ago. I brought a picture of him to Spanish class, and my eyes were watering. Even though the lights were out I thought I could see people staring at me with the weirdest expression on their face. So I hurried to finish talking and sat down in my chair.
Later that day, when I got in the car, my mom asked me what was wrong, so I told her. “It’s alright hun,” she said that four times.
When we got home I took out another picture of Grandfather Billy and just stared at it for a long time. I felt a strong of connection to him. Maybe it was the fact that he had helped baptize me, I don’t know. Suddenly, something happened. It wasn’t external. It was inside of me. For some reason I didn’t feel sad for him dying, it was something else. Something that’s so hard to explain, no one, can put it to words.