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Through The Smoke

A long journey. Around and around the windy roads, criss-crossing through the everlasting countryside. Time seems to slow down as the expedition with my family to see my grandpa takes an excruciatingly painful toll on my wearing thin patience. The clichéd phrase of, “Are we there yet?” is tossed around what seemed to be at least fifty times between my brother and I. My increasing excitement is evident by the harassment, and by that meaning the constant pokes and jabs that my parents were receiving. We’ve almost arrived to Madison now.
This memory is burned into my mind and I will never forget it. The endless corn fields we pass through, the high hills that paint the landscape as deliberately as only nature can. Once I see these things, I know that we’re close to my grandpa, Theodore Long’s, house. I see his long, curvaceous gravel driveway that leads to a brown garage where most everyone can park their cars. I only get to see my grandpa maybe 2 or 3 times a year, so I cherish every time I get an opportunity to visit.
Contrary to common belief, Grandpa is a man of few words, What I most liked about him is that he was full of intriguing and fascinating stories. You see, he was in the military. He entered the service in 1954 and he left with the title Commander Theodore Long. He partook and fought in the Vietnam War from whence he told me some very captivating anecdotes, many of which I still remember today. When I try to picture grandpa in my mind, I recall a memory of him sitting at a big round table in the middle of his living room, leaning back wearing his cap pulled down low over his head, and the ubiquitous cigarette dangling between his pointer and middle finger. It’s painfully ironic how one of his favorite things could cause his untimely demise.
My grandfather had always been a hardworking man, sometimes juggling two jobs to support his family of 7. He never complained either. They didn’t particularly have much, but always had enough. I remember a time when I sat with him at the round table and he explained to me, what he thought to be, one of the most interesting things in the world: bird watching. Because I was only 12, I could simply not wrap my head around something so seemingly boring in my eyes. He lived on a farm of about 100 acres and the round table was adjacent to these transparent sliding double doors, which allowed him to gaze onto the grassy land for hours at a time, all the while constantly smoking, ever so often pulling out a lighter from his shirt pocket.

Smoking was a big part of his life. It kind of has to be if you’re reaping the unhealthy side effects from smoking for more than 60 years. Every one that visited the house complained about the stink but I never minded it. I just looked at my grandpa with a combination of child like mystery and admiration. It’s always been a joke in our family to say that he resembled Clint Eastwood in the movie, “Gran Torino”, rough on the outside, perhaps short on a few social graces, but actually and always a very caring, deeply supportive man.
One of the few things I remember my grandpa saying to me is, “Boy, just listen to your mom and dad and life will go good for you.” That’s something I’ll never forget. Suddenly, out of the blue, on February 3rd, my dad gets a call from his brother, Uncle Joe, saying that Grandpa had been taking to the hospice because doctors diagnosed that he wouldn’t last but a couple more weeks because of his terminal lung cancer caused by cigarettes. My dad and I left immediately that morning and traveled the hospice by car and got there and four in the afternoon that next day. When we finally arrived to his hospice room, he wasn’t in the best of shapes to say the least. His breathing was very irregular and he barely looked alive. As we sat waiting for the nurses to give us new information, I mulled through the memories I had shared with him and the laughs we had together, trying to focus on the positive. I didn’t want to lose him, but the future was inevitable.
On Feb 4th, 2012, at around ten at night, Theodore Long had passed away at age 76. I visited him and have him one last final goodbye. As he lay there, his gray unkempt hair, with his arms tucked at his side, I had finally realized the pain of losing a loved one.

And here I am now, sitting on my couch, trying to take in all the mixed emotions I’m feeling and trying to remember all the good times, the positive things that transpired between us. I wanted him back. I wanted him to be back at his house, and I was coming up during the summer and have a much needed talk, as we do every summer. We had a rocky sort of relationship, but I thoroughly enjoyed it while it lasted. Suddenly, I realized something, unbeknownst to me before. Even though the loss of my grandfather was a terribly sad tragedy, I can now see that he was ready, and I was ready to let him go. I had know him, I had understood him, and I was content, through the smoke.





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