Grandpa had been a boxer in the years before he became a grandpa, before he became a husband (it was during these years that he met Grandma.) And his arms were strong.
When I was a little girl, I used to swing from my grandpa’s arm. He’d make a muscle, one that I’d no doubt asked him to make, and then I’d grab on his arm, and he’d lift me high above the ground. At my age, it was a magical height, like seeing people & cars from an airplane. I felt at once so high, and so safe, as I dangled from Grandpa’s arm.
At some point, as I grew, I no longer could hang from Grandpa’s arm. He’d been a boxer in a lightweight division, and in my family, girls went from a size 6X to a size 13 (if you were lucky, you decreased in size by the end of high school or your early 20’s). So soon, I literally out-grew swinging from Grandpa’s arm.
I don’t remember my age, but I do remember thinking tenderly, of becoming aware of Grandpa as becoming one of those older people - a bit too frail for me to play with as I used to do. But Grandpa & I still had a game to play.
Grandpa used to tell me he loved me ’all heart’ and when I was still little enough to swing from his arm, I had asked him if Grandma minded that he loved me with all of his heart - if this meant he couldn’t love anyone else. He replied that love was infinite - that no matter how he used his whole heart to love me, he could love Grandma, his children, my sister, my cousins - each & every other person he wanted - with his entire heart as well. Hearts held & gave more than we could account for.
As I grew older, we would play this game on nearly every visit. I remember at my high school graduation, sitting alone with Grandpa on the back step we sat side by side, holding each other’s hand, and looking into each other’s faces as we played the game:
"Hello my Long-Stem-American-Rose, I’m so proud of you today, graduating high school. I love you all heart."
"Grandpa, how can you love me with all your heart? What about Grandma?"
"Love is limitless, Dee Dee, it is bigger and wider than we will ever know. They may teach you that hearts are only the size of your fist, but they hold & give more than we can ever measure. This is how I can love you all heart, and love Grandma all heart too."
He never once said that we’d done this before. Neither one of us laughed during this game. It was as sincerely asked and answered as the first time. And even if that was the only conversation we shared alone that visit, it made my heart so full.
I miss my Grandpa. These days when the world seems to have no purpose, when I was beat in my own kitchen, when I suffered losses in court, I hear my Grandpa’s words, and I know none of those things have any hold on me. Not really.
It would be nicer to sit with him on the porch, and have him hold my hand as he’d speak those words. But neither those words, nor my Grandpa, are really gone. Every opportunity I have, I share the conversation with my children. It doesn’t happen the same way. And heaven knows my 5 year old doesn’t play the game as I did with my Grandpa. But he listens.
I have hope that at his worst moments, when my hand is not there to hold his, my son’s heart is full knowing that the things he fears or hates do not have a hold on him. Not really.
(Republished from ye olde Backwash column.)