The Lovers’ tasks

A week ago, I went back to coastal Connecticut, where I grew up, to help move my grandfather into one room in a nursing home. My parents had already packed up his apartment, and all day we carried pieces of him out of the moving truck — the wooden stand he made for his ships’ clocks, the chronometer, small tables from his mother’s family, the brass bell two men had to carry.

He had already had to scale back, and the things he had left all belonged to him. I remember them in their places. We tried to come up with their stories, where they were made, what flea market he found them in, what craftsman in his city made them, all the time we were dispersing them.

My aunt brought the bed he had made for her, and them kept for her when she moved, into a guest room where she always sleeps. The posts scraped the ceiling, and we spent a hilarious half hour trying to find four places where the floor boards were low and the ceiling was high at the same time.

We brought his medical school microscope home for my sister. She and her boyfriend were packing up her first year med school dorm. The case has my grandfather’s name on it — Mister —. I’ve never seen it written out like that. He’s been a doctor since my mother was born.

My parents went to pick up my grandfather, then, and my brother and I took over a job that had been my grandfather’s all through our childhoods. We drove back to the city where he has lived all his life, through the archway on Wooster Street where the tricolore flies, and waited in line at Frank Pepe’s Pizzaria.

When we were kids, and my grandfather lived a short jog from there, he used to wait there for us, an hour or more at a time. He’s been coming to Pepe’s for 92 years, and he knew all the guys in the kitchen. We would sit on the counter, near the juke box, watching them deal slices of mozzarella onto the rounds of dough, and sometimes they would give us slices of cheese.

My brother and I sat on the window ledge in the lobby, breathing garlic and oregano every time the door opened, and waving the line in ahead of us. A team of teenage girls pased the window in basketball jerseys, eating lemon italian ices. We waited an hour or more.

My grandfather came in on my father’s arm. I sat on a bench next to him. He said, is your name Margaret?

It isn’t.

Then he said, you have a new job. I do. And he told us he had just learned that Margot is a German nickname for Margaret, and that Damariscotta, Maine, have gotten its name from Damaris cove.

He does still know me. He does still know that he loves us. When we had all gathered, and toasted, and stretched out dinner until my sister and her boyfriend made it through traffic (eat slowly, my mom said, as soon as the pizzas touched down), we all saw him home. And he told us so.

He told us stories about the paintings he still has, and the ship’s wheel, and the lamp he made from a lignum vitae dead-eye that came off the last Canadian wooden ship to challenge the American clippers. Her name was the Blue Nose.

And I had another post in mind when I sat down to write this one, about books and plots and making the risks real. But I wound up writing about my own instead. My grandfather looked after me, and gave me pretzels in his waiting room, with the elevator that had a diamond pane of glass in the door so you could watch the brick wall slide by. He got me into the Yale library, all through high school, and once into Beinike, so I could look at Papist tracts about Colonel Thomas Blood. He paid house calls and built wooden boats in his back yard and let me try his sextant for a science project.

He lives in a room slightly larger than my sister’s dorm room. As far as I know, he isn’t in pain. At 92, to be warm and dry and fed and loved is a great deal. I just don’t want him to be lonely.


One Response to “The Lovers’ tasks”

  1. Rachel Says:

    Thank you for sharing these memories, these details. I feel like I know him now.

    It is dreadfully difficult to see the reduction in circumstance that comes with aging. But I believe you are right that being warm and dry and fed and loved, and not in pain, is a great deal. May he find comfort in his memories and his stories, and may you, too.

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