June 22, 2013
I have a few very early memories. The earliest is of a man’s face: blue eyes and a gentle smile, very short grey hair. He was no one that I knew, and this memory always seemed to come to me when I was scared (usually, when I tried to sleep – I was afraid of the dark). I did not know much about angels as a little girl, but I believed that he was mine. I loved that face that looked down at me; whenever the short clip of memory would flash behind my eyes, I would smile, feeling safe.
One day when I was about four or five years old, I sat next to my mother on the sofa. She was going through a large box of photographs, pulling some out and stacking them on the coffee table. I snuggled up against her arm, and looked on. Every now and then, I would ask about the people in the pictures; Mom would tell me who everyone was, and where the photo was taken.
When she fished out a black and white picture of him, I snatched it from her hand and held it against my heart. “My angel!”
My mother pulled back from me a bit and gave me a frown. “What are you talking about?”
I smiled, and nearly cried. I could not have expressed the feeling in words, but I think it made him more real to me.
Mom gently retrieved the photograph and smiled at it.
“That’s my daddy,” she said.
“That’s my angel!” I argued. I went on to tell her how I had seen him from time to time, mostly when I was scared to sleep. How he would look down at me and smile, and I would feel better. I described him again and again, mostly talking about his blue eyes.
She was silent at first, and then my mother whispered, “Honey… you remember him. He was your grandpa.”
“Where is he now?” I asked.
“He’s in heaven,” Mom replied. “He went there a little while after you were born.”
“He’s my angel,” I said quietly. “He loves me.”
She put an arm around me and kissed the top of my head. “Yes. He loves you.”
“What was he like?” I asked.
“He was a very nice man.”
“Was he funny?” I had always had the feeling that he was.
My mother chuckled. “Oh yeah! He knew a lot of jokes.”
Little by little, over the years, I learned a lot about my angel, my grandfather. His father had been an alcoholic and abusive, so Grandpa ran away from home when he was a teenager. He was big and strong, and became a catcher in the trapeze act for a little circus.
He travelled all over The States, but that ended when he went into the little Hungarian restaurant in Brooklyn and met the cook. He knew my grandmother for about five minutes when he told her, “You are going to marry me.”
Grandma laughed him off, but he proved he was serious. He got a job in Connecticut, driving the trolley. He spoke to Grandma’s family and got their permission. They married a few months later.
Grandma & Grandpa, at their 50th anniversary party.
They did not have an easy life (Really, who does?). Grandma and Grandpa both worked hard to get their house up the road from the beach. They lost their first two children to the influenza within a year of one another. My grandfather later developed serious health problems that left him bedridden much of the time. My grandmother worked and took care of him. He was never bitter, and never complained about his sickness.
Despite his lack of a formal education, Grandpa was a bright man, well read, and he loved mathematics and science. When he was bedridden, he spent time figuring out the tides and things like that.
I remember one day, I noticed that my mother was writing notes in the margin of a book she was reading. I laughed and said, “So THAT’S where I get it from!”
She laughed, too. “Nope. We get it from my father.” She then showed me a few of his books. There was his writing, sometimes neat and sometimes not so much, in nearly every margin.
A few months before my mother moved up to live in the apartment next to ours (I believe it was 2005), I visited her. I told her that while I was there, I’d like to walk down to the beach.
Mom chuckled. “You know how you used to ‘sneak’ out to walk down there?”
I did not know she knew about that. I did not remember telling her, anyway.
If she saw my surprised look, she didn’t show it. “Before he got really sick, Grandpa did that. Just about every morning. In the summer, anyway. He liked to climb that old rock wall and watch the sun come up.”
I was speechless.
She grinned. “I used to go with him, sometimes. You know that flat rock on top?”
“We would sit there. Quiet. Peaceful. Just watching.”
I couldn’t say anything, and didn’t know what to say, anyway.
I watched my mother’s eyes. She was far away for a minute. She returned with a smile. “It was so beautiful.”
I nodded again.
She gave my shoulder a playful shove. “You know what I mean.”
I swallowed. “I do.”
That beach would never be the same for me. Whenever I went again, I would go over to where the rock wall used to be, where I used to go to watch the sunrise, and I would think, an angel was here.