Every Tuesday in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.
My paternal grandfather, the last surviving of my grandparents, passed away last week. He was an army veteran, present at D-Day seventy years ago. And, by a happy coincidence in our planning, my husband and I got married on my grandparents’ sixty-first wedding anniversary. Both my grandma and my grandpa were able to attend that milestone celebration, yet when I walked into my grandparents’ empty house last week—a house they lived in for more than sixty years—it wasn’t the big moments that flooded me but a torrent of small ones.
I opened the door to see my grandparents’ knickknacks smiling down at me. It just smelled like their house. Some of the furniture had been removed, but I could still picture everything in place—my grandmother in her rocking chair and her candy jar, absent now, with its empty spot on the counter. My grandfather, a carpenter by trade, built a lot of the furniture and regularly moved the walls around (much to my grandmother’s bemusement). Each piece left behind a solid reminder of his life’s work, while his music and laughter and signature cuss words hung in the air, holding together decades of intangible memories.
I needed to see the house again, for a few minutes, and my dad admitted to going down there the day before just to sit for an hour. He went back in with me so we could walk around the rooms and weep together. I showed my girls where the tree used to stand in the front, the one I used to climb as a kid. I saw the side door where my brother showed me he knew how to pick locks with a credit card and a hair pin. I didn’t go to the basement, overflowing with my grandfather’s tool collection, but I could almost smell the chalk dust from the chalkboard my cousins and I played at for hours.
I glanced at the little house behind my grandparents’ home, a small rental where my nana (my maternal grandmother) lived near the end of her life. I used to feel so lucky to visit all three of my grandparents at once because they lived next door to each other; they looked after each other the same way they looked after all of us, and I never felt the division of “sides” in my family growing up. We were just family. And in my grandfather’s house, there was always room for family, generation after generation, starting with their own parents before I was even born. But my grandfather is the only one of my grandparents who ever met my children. He was, like those few remaining survivors of D-day are for our national history, the last link to a past I can only know in part.
I used to skim the genealogies in Biblical texts—lists of names that didn’t mean anything to me. Even when I came to understand their theological role, I still skipped them because I’ve always preferred a narrative arc. And in the last few days, I’ve realized just how strong the storyline in genealogy is, link by link from one generation of saints and sinners to the next. The loss of my grandfather aches within me, and it stings all the more because the line feels broken now. My parents step into his place and I into theirs, my children into mine. We move forward in the queue, and it will be a long time, if ever, before I get to be part of four generations again. I am a daughter and a sister and a mother, but I’m not a granddaughter in quite the same way.
Each room of my grandfather’s house, emptied of much of its furniture, still brimmed over with memories of love and laughter and warmth. Soon the house itself will pass into new hands as part of an estate sale, but the members of my family will carry the hope and joy within us out into the world, even as another family alters the physical and emotional space of that home. I walked slowly through each room of my grandfather’s house, letting my gaze linger, wondering what memories my father recalled that I only knew through story, if at all.
But my eternal Father’s house has many rooms, with ones prepared for me and for my daughters. Here on earth, my line, like all things, feels broken. Yet before me and behind me there stretches a line of saints through eternity, and though my grandfather’s house will change, my Father’s house never will. And I know that my grandparents are waiting for me there, where a single day is better than our greatest story here.