Tuesday, April 28, 2015

I like to collect other people's things. Heirlooms picked up from garage sales, flea markets -- I'm energized by the thought of making them feel new again. My house is essentially a second-chance program for unwanted stuff. I'll never know the original owners of most of them, and they're not my stories to tell.

There's an elk antler that sits on my entryway table, accompanied by old records and an outdated globe. When I look at it, I think about the person who stared down the barrel of a gun one foggy morning in rural Oregon, eventually loading the elk in a Chevrolet pick-up under the Harvest moon. It's the same person I called "Grandpa Jeep," and aside from a few photos tucked away, this is the last I have to show for it.

What I lack in tangible evidence, we made up for in memories. Him and me, laying in a tent over the 4th of July while he told me about his family's farm in Hope, North Dakota, and about the Shetland pony he rode to his one room schoolhouse. He got the attention of the older kids by standing without a saddle, arriving to class by perfecting a graceful lunge off the horse.

He told me about the day his parents and all five of their boys headed to Oregon, and how everything they owned fit in a single car. As the Midwest dust grew heavy so did his heart, longing for the only place he knew.

He didn't know then that on the other end of that road was a woman he loved so deeply he'd run six miles to see every day, and a basketball career that made the front page. It was all waiting for him, he just had to get there.

He's gone now, but it doesn't feel that way. Every Easter, I think about the spring break my sister and I spent with my grandparents. Jeep had fallen asleep one afternoon in his favorite recliner, positioned in a way to watch TV with minimal glare from the window's incoming light. My sister laid a chocolate cream egg on his shoulder - a surprise for when he woke up. Later, when he delivered ice cream to our bedroom, he stopped and started talking about his stint in the Navy.

"You know girls, when I was in the Navy we had to do the About Face," he said, performing 90 degree pivots in the overcrowded room. "About Face, About Face, About Face," until he had turned completely around. My sister and I both realized the egg had made its way down his shoulder and landed on the back of his pants, melting as he slept. What remained was a large, light brown mess on his Dockers and we contorted, urged on by mutual spits of laughter. The three of us sat there, unable to breathe looking into each other's squinted eyes as the night drifted away.

He's the guy who taught me to be a warrior for adventure, the one who reminds me that everything will be okay because it has to be.

There would've been no way for him to predict, as my grandpa stared through the rear window at the disappearing farm all those years ago, what would become of his life. I think it was greater than anything he could've imagined.

(Photo: Grandpa Jeep and me on Diamond Lake, the day I caught my first fish.)


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