And Then I Stepped in Gum . . .

Friday, January 28, 2005

Requiem

Driving down the street this afternoon after picking Katie up from school, I realized that today is January 28th. January 28th is a memorable day for me. Exactly one week after my birthday, it's the date that my grandfather died just after I turned 12, in 1985. And one year after that, it's the day that the Challenger space shuttle exploded.

My grandfather's death was the first I experienced in my family, and knock on wood, the deaths have been few and far between in my lifetime. I don't have a huge number of memories of him, as my grandparents lived in Phoenix and we lived everywhere else, but I do have some. They are comforting memories. I remember him sitting in "his" chair and watching the news, something I never understood as a kid who wanted to watch "Wallace and Ladmo" and reruns of "I Dream of Jeannie" all the time. I remember him sitting down on our couch in Nebraska with me during a visit, his arm over my shoulder holding me close while we watched something else. I remember his baldness, which he was able to joke about; his heavy beard which seemed to give him a perpetual 5 o'clock shadow; and the way he smelled like beer -- Schlitz, if I remember correctly. He also liked to drink red wine with dinner and have liqueur over ice cream every night. So mostly what I have of him are impressions, and hand-me-down stories. They're warm, though.

I've been told that my grandfather was pretty strict when my mom and her brothers were growing up, but I don't remember that about him. He always had a smile for us. He'd greet us with an almost-brutal, bone-squeezing bear hug, and during our visits he'd take my brother and sister and I into his backyard to monitor the pool, or pick up citrus fruit, or play. He liked showing off his collection of exotic birds, which ranged from lovebirds to parakeets to parrot to macaws to cockatoos -- he had 38 when he died, I think, though some were being boarded with them. Funny, I remember my grandmother taking care of the birds, but remember him playing with them -- letting them out of the cage and getting them to talk.

His death was a shock to me, especially as a precocious preteen. I have vivid memories of my mom coming to my junior high school to get me -- I was in 8th grade -- and take me out for two weeks. I was in history class at the time, and I was sent to all my teachers to ask for assignments from them before I left. Mr. Davies, my history teacher, exclaimed, "Two weeks! What do you need to be gone two weeks for?" I've never forgiven him for that. Not that the man had been a stellar example of graciousness prior to that, but it showed, in my opinion, an astonishing lack of sensitivity.

I don't remember the trip to Phoenix -- did we fly or drive? -- but I remember arriving at my grandmother's house. She opened the door, and her eyes were red from crying. I was completely shaken -- I'd never seen her cry before. I don't think I ever saw her cry after that, either. The house became a center for all kinds of relatives to gather, as it did for my grandmother's funeral 10 years later. That's the wonderfully ironic thing about funerals -- that they give widespread families a touchstone, an opportunity to say to our relatives, "Yes, we're here, and we love you, no matter how far away you go or how long it's been since we've seen you." I've been heartened by that at both my own family's funerals and at the ones I've attended with Dave.

We stayed for the two weeks, and I didn't flunk the 8th grade, despite Mr. Davies's predictions. I don't remember much beyond that, except the surreal moment-out-of-time feeling of not attending school for that long a period when you're supposed to be. And on the one-year anniversary of his death, maudlin teenager that I was, I dressed in black -- black jeans, a black-and-white buffalo plaid "big shirt," and a black, Shaker-style sweater vest (remember those?) over it. And then during 3rd period geography, we heard about the Challenger. Funnily enough, Mr. Davies plays into this memory too -- his classroom was where our yearbook class met, and I remember him wheeling a TV in so we could watch the coverage. I also remember getting into a fight with Scott Bryk about him being callous and uncaring about the astronauts in the shuttle, because we "didn't know them anyway." I seem to recall throwing out some kind of overdramatic remark about him not knowing my grandfather, either, and bursting into tears and running to the bathroom. Gawd, I don't miss 13 at all.

Anyway, all these thoughts went through my head when I noticed the date. I can't believe it's been 20 years. I'm feeling a little melancholy. I wish my grandparents could have seen my life, seen my children. I hope they'd be proud of me. I miss them.

4 comment(s):

I'm sure they'd be very proud of you, and absolutely enamored with your children. :-)

Jen (MM99)

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:04 PM  

Jennifer, I just found this part of your blog, I had replied to some other area in your blog where I somehow appeared the other day in passing, but now I find this original reference where I made a horrible impression on you and hurt you. I want to tell you that I'm sorry you were having a hard time with your Grandfather's death at the time the Challenger crashed. I assure you that my response to that national tragedy was simply an immature response to a horrible situation. I was simply being a 13 year old boy, caustic and juvenile. I think if you remember me well, my behavior was par for the course. I was very lucky to move from Nebraska and get the chance to reinvent myself a little. I suppose there are probably a few people out there who think I am still immature and callous. I know I can never give you that time back, but now twenty years later and for what-ever it may be worth at least let me apologize for hurting you. I am very sorry. I hope your life continues to be as rich as it seems to be from you "blogging" ("?") (which I really have little idea how this works or if you'll ever see this... But just in case you might please accept my attempt to express my sorrow.) Perhaps this will help because now you know I can "hear" you.
-Scott Bryk

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:39 AM  

Scott, I forgive you, if you forgive me for "outing" you as a typical 13-year-old boy. I should have just used your first name, really! I know what you mean about reinventing yourself, as I've had the opportunity to do it multiple times and have usually been glad for the chance. I don't know if you'll see this or not, but if you do, you can e-mail me at widget (at) jmeditorial.com, and I'd actually have your e-mail address and be able to respond. Thank you for your apology -- it was very sweet, though really unnecessary. With some distance, I can understand, believe me. (Remember, I was overdramatic myself!)

By Blogger Jennifer Morgan, at 8:30 AM  

Dear Jennifer,

This is all interesting to me... I actually am one of those sick people who sits bolt upright in bed at night realizing how I hurt someone ten years ago and how I wish I could make it better or just take it back. Doesn't seem like the boy you knew eh?

I forgive you for "outing me" but the way I see it, a spade is a spade, I WAS a little prick. Mr Davie of "social studies" fame (what a strange duck he was indeed) had me have a meeting with the school counselor over the entire issue of my apparent disdain for the event... seems he became so disturbed that he thought I would become a serial killer. Fortunately for me the label did not stick and I became a physician instead.

I was interested to reread your note several times, sadly after I had responded, and I quickly realized that my initial horror at having hurt someone from so long ago really wasn't what your thoughts had been about, then I felt ashamed that I had been so concerned about my affect on you because it struck me as egotistical of me to be worried I had hurt you when the real thought was that "YOU were hurt" and that THAT was bad. Not only did you hurt but you seem to feel as if you, as are most teenagers, were ill equipped at the time to deal with the magnitude of your grandfathers death and MANY of the people around you weren't helpful one iota. There is a reason that literature is overflowing with similar stories, they are very real and nearly universal, it sucks to be a teen.

This does not mean I recant my apology, far from it. I am still sorry I added to your troubles. It simply means I am glad to recognize you are not somewhere out there fretting the "damage" some silly 13 year old boy did. You seem like a very well adjusted professional and great Mom.

I sent a picture of my less fat but very bald self to your email address just for you to laugh at.

Your friend,

Scott

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:59 PM  

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