Emotions are swirling at this writing. I'm in my home town of Hobart, Indiana visiting my grandma. She turns 84 in August and is my last grandparent alive. I sit right now in the dining room where I used to play as a four and five-year-old while my dad was in Viet Nam in 1970, and where I have spent so many special days of my life.
Gone now is my Grandpa Claxton. We buried him on 9/10 and instead of waiting until the next day to fly home, I flew back that night telling my now ex-wife, who was worried about me flying, that there was nothing to flying, you just get on the plane and ride home. About 10 a.m. the next morning I got an I told you so.
In October of 2007 came the horrible call from my mom that her dad had died that morning. I've written here several times what a horrible mess I became upon hearing that news.
And in November of 1999, with my twin daughters Reagan and Haley only three months old, came the first of those dreaded calls; my mom telling me grandma had passed.
I was in Chicago Wed-Friday morning. Thursday night, we held a reception at the Museum of Science and Industry with Dr. Bernard Harris, who you know I promote through my day job at Do You Know Bernard Harris? Holding an educationally-centered reception at the museum was my idea. I can't count the number of times Grandpa Sheptak and I went to the museum to see the science stuff, but also to hit the IMAX theater.
Though there were friends around I still felt like I was in my own isolation of a surreal dream. I would look at the doors, look across the room and think as in older days that grandpa was going to come walking around an exhibit that I'd sped past and he'd spent a little more time observing. And then looking over into the space where you line up for the IMAX, my mind and eyes kept looking for him to be standing there toward the front of the line where I would have left him for a moment to go over to the gift shop or to snap a photo of something.
Yesterday, my dad picked me up and drove me over here to Hobart (pronounced locally as Ho-bert) and dropped me here at Grandma Claxton's. My "blue room" where I always sleep when I'm here was ready for me. It always is ready for any of us grandkids who venture this way.
And so after dad left to go over to his house, Grandma and I got some time to visit and talk about things of the past. She began to tell me that she never knew my dad had been shot down in Viet Nam until recently when one of my aunt's told her. I'm guessing in some ways I made it worse for her, because I immediately tried to remind her that the only way I even found out about that was from her.
We were pulling into a nursery or something on Route 51 here in Hobart, Grandpa Claxton was driving, one or two of my brothers and I were in the back seat and grandma said, "you know, when your dad quit writing your mom every day while he was in Nam because he'd been shot down." My response, (I was probably 11 or 12) was, "He'd been WHAT?!"
She then pulled out a newspaper article from 1971 that showed me how dad had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross while we were in Kansas at McConnell AFB in Wichita. I remember the ceremony. I didn't know it was for the DFC. That's a highly prestigious medla.
There is so much veterans don't talk about. This is one of those things. Dad thinks he actually has two or three DFCs. I didn't know that until yesterday.
So dad and I went out to eat last night. Before we did, we found my mom's youngest brother, David, and got the keys to grandma and grandpa's house. Now I have to tell you, grandpa was a collector. Mostly of junk. But he had incredible fascinations with art, photography, Yosemite, and projects. (From reading here, do some of those themes sound familiar?)
David said it took five dumpster loads to get rid of all the stuff that was in his parents' home. He also said he's put a lot of work into fixing it back up. Gone were the things grandpa had accumulated, save for photos, paintings, several art books, etc. that were still collected in one of the dryer corners of the basement.
Gone upstairs was the carpet that had been there long before I'd been born. The wood floors were in good condition. David has changed out all the windows. The walls are all painted a pleasing shade of yellow. The ceilings all uniformly white. It has a different feel. It was cathartic to walk through it and think about what was here, what had been there, who had been in this room. "Was there really a window here?" "This is where my brother Richard and I slept on our bunkbed while you were in Nam." Those kinds of things. "This is the bedroom where mom told me that there wasn't a Santa Claus when I was in kindergarten." "This is the hallway I walked down that year to go out to see the tree, with grandma already out there, and I looked at what was under the tree and said, 'No bike!' and turned around to go back to the bedroom." That was one of grandma's favorite things to remind me about.
That same year over here at the Claxton's, Grandma had played a trick on us all saying she'd just been outside and had heard bells ringing overhead. All us grand kids tore out the front door….
So what do I take out of this trip? Kari was suggesting I stay another night, but I'm back in the office Monday and part of the day Tuesday, off to Mobile until Wednesday night, back on Thursday and Friday, and then we're off to Yosemite with the seven kids for the week. I&#
39;ve been gone four days already and it's time to step back into the reality that is my life back home.
Remember on the flight up here I was scourging through the corners of my memory pulling up the things I've been told over the years about my weight. My vow after writing about them was to put them behind me, and here I sit in the pinnacle of childhood memory generators.
I don't know how many more visits in this life I'm going to make here while grandma is still with us. So I'm savoring each moment here. And so there is my dilemma. Do I jump back into the now of Balch Springs, TX, or hang on to these remaining living images?
Grandma just walked in, so I'm going to go. Living in the now, you know. Living in the now.