Several weeks ago, I kept returning to that afternoon spent in my grandparent's enormous front yard flying kites. My grandfather made us the kites out of brown paper bags, they had string that was actually scraps of strings that had all been tied together and real rag tails. They got off the ground and soared so high. I remember the laughter and viewing it all through hair in my eyes. My Granpo's hair was blowing in the wind too. He had a huge smile, a torn shirt and a hole in the knee of his khaki pants.
There are photos of that day and I saw them a few years ago. I wanted so much to have copies. The photos show us all but it's not at all like the memory. I am frozen in time wearing shorts and an over sized shirt, stuck in those awkward years of puberty. But in my memory I am still every bit a child with her heroic Granpo, giggling and laughing. excited about a kite.
Those kites came from a question,"Granpo, what kind of toys did you play with when you were little?" He made us the toys he played with. One afternoon he gave us each a sling shot cut from the trees in his own yard. He had searched for strong forks and sawed them. Then he cut rubber from something he had around the garage. I don't remember what exactly, perhaps it was part of a tire. They worked and our rocks went flying. Some weeks later he made us wooden guns that shot rubber bands. They were made of scrap wood and a clothespin glued on. We'd stretch the rubber bands and see them fly. Then came kites. The first few never got off the ground. I remember his improvements. Finally he took the sticks from old kites that he had found at garage sales and created the brown paper bag diamond shaped kites.
It may have all been in one summer or carried through the months into the following spring, but I can't recall the frame of time. I remember being seventeen or so and finding one of the old, wood guns outside and thinking back of the fun we had with it. I wish I had picked it up and saved it. I didn't because it belonged at Granmo's house and there would always be Granmo's house. I remember being in bed and wondering how much longer I had with them in my life and went over favorite memories. It's because of that exercise, going over the day, then going over memories and then thinking of loved ones before bed that I feel I still have so many memories with me. Now I ask August to recall her favorite parts of the day before she goes to bed.
I have his hands, long fingers, big hands, even down to the shape of the nails. I have hands that like to make things, figure things out. I noticed that early on, as a child. I saw him build and make so many things, so many clever things and wanted to be just like him. He fashioned an electric box to light up a party for their anniversary out from things he had in his carport. That was magic.
These days, my tall, strong Granpo with his large strong hands is sleeping almost all day long. He stands as tall as me because of osteoporosis and he is in so much pain because of complications with a recent fall and a seventy year old war wound. My Granmo is his constant. She gives him life, she feeds him, bathes him and fights with doctors to get him the medical care he needs. She has the help of nurses and friends but no one has the stamina and determination that she has. She wakes up every morning in the arm chair next to his bed. When he wakes up he calls out to her,"Nena, donde estas?" She answers."Aqui estoy viejo." She tells me of how must it have been for him those hours when he was left for dead on the side of a mountain in Italy during the war. She has never spoke of this before.
My grandfather received the Purple Heart. My grandmother met him when he returned from the war, she was only sixteen. Their story is a complicated one. They didn't spend much time together as newlyweds because he was away undergoing surgeries for what was thought to be a possibly paralyzing wound. So went the first years of their marriage. For seventy years her priorities have included keeping her husband well fed and always on time for his doctor appointments. The both of them are in the twilight years of their marriage and lives.
However, when I did get to visit, a month ago, I saw that my grandfather was not going to pass any time soon but he is just terribly afraid and depressed that he will. "Granpo, you aren't dying". I said it with a smile and I said it carefully but it was something I had not thought about saying. He looked at me and said,"No?" I gave him a confident and sincere no. I then asked him if he remembered all those toys he made for us that time and the chickens he kept and how I want fruit trees, goats and chickens again one day. He remembered and smiled through my memories and then told me how to start a fig tree. Then we were visited by a strange little bird that came up to the window. It was orange, not red like a cardinal. "Look Granpo, look at that beautiful little bird, look, August, I have never seen a bird like that!" As I reached to take a photo my grandfather told me he visits often. I looked it up and it is a Summer Tanager, a song bird.
My Granpo has recovered from that fall as best he can for 93. He is no longer in great pain and my grandmother has returned to sleeping in her bed. We talk daily and she always tells me how well he is eating. She's been telling me stories I have never heard before. I am asking questions I wouldn't dare ask before. I'm understanding them more, their relationship and it's a story that has always demanded real love very early on. With all the beautiful big band music that was playing at the time of their courtship and early years of marriage, the crooners singing of romantic love, they were thrown into the fires of what it's really all about. At first it seems so sad and unfortunate, so unromantic. Then my grandmother tells me of all the letters she wrote when he was in the hospital hours and hours away. He tells me of how much he wanted to just be home, a new husband to the prettiest girl he ever met and father to his new baby boy. It took years for them to recover from it all.
When I visited I really was touched by the devotion, trust between them. There were no distractions, no projects, no outings, no yard work, no tending to animals, no business, all that has disappeared. It's the two of them. As I walked across the yard where we once flew kites, back to the truck, I drove off feeling that all the happiness and love I always found in their home came from two very strong people that have always known what real love is and what it takes, no love songs, the real thing.