Monday, December 31, 2012

The Shawshank Redemption and my Grampa

I watched The Shawshank Redemption for the first time over the weekend, and found myself thinking about my grandfather for reasons I can't entirely explain except that he was from Maine and he loved a good story.

Very few of the people who know me had the chance to meet my grampa, which is unfortunate because he was one of those people who loves EVERYONE. Seriously. If I brought you through the door? He'd have been your new best friend. He'd have asked you about your job, and your relationships, and your life in general, but not in the way that makes you feel like you're being interrogated. He was just interested. He loved people. Perhaps more importantly, he had the gift of meeting people exactly where they were and liking them there.

He was special like that.

One of the last real conversations I remember having with him was about stories. Not The Shawshank Redemption, though. He had a brain tumor. I was 21 and in college, and I convinced him that he was doing ME a favour by letting me move in -- because otherwise, he'd NEVER have gone for it (Grampa had a thing about putting people out, so I had to sell him on the idea that driving to my college campus from his house was MUCH better than driving from my hometown, which it totally was, even though I had to quit my job to make it work) and had overloaded on courses that semester, which, since I was an English major, meant that I was reading 3 novels and at least four plays a week.

The amount of reading caught his attention. I have always been a reader, but now I was buried in books.

I should mention here that, in addition to being the most interested person in others ever, my grampa had wanted to be a teacher. Except, you know, World War Two intervened, so he enlisted before he could have graduated from high school. Along with ALL THREE of his brothers.

One of them didn't come home. That's what happens in war.

And G (as we came to call him) didn't graduate from high school. So, no  teacher career for him. (I wish -- I so wish -- I had asked him more about his life. But I was young and foolish with it, so I didn't. I should have.) After my freshman year in college, I decided that teaching was the job for me. This was partially because I had great, inspiring  teachers and wanted to give back to a field that had given me so much, but also?  I wanted to make my grampa proud.

After his brain tumor diagnosis (which came after my nana was placed in the Alzheimer's ward of a local nursing home), after I'd moved in, he commented one day on the stack of books that had taken over the table in the formal dining room (along with my computer, which fascinated him).

"Those stories," he said one day, over coffee. "All those stories."


"Do you like them?"

"I love them."

"You read so much." He said, and paused. "Do you ever want to tell your own stories?"

"Sometimes," I said. "But I don't have a lot of time for that."

"You should make the time," he said. "You never have as much as you think."

Five weeks later, he was gone. He had complications during the surgery for the brain tumor, you see. He couldn't make peace with a body he could no longer control, and he died.

It broke my heart.

You never have as much time as you think.

And maybe that's why The Shawshank Redemption -- which I had read a million times, but which I had not watched before -- made me cry, and made me think of my grandfather. In the movie, Andy Dufresne says:  "Get busy living, or get busy dying." Which my brain translated as: Tell the stories, or don't. But don't think you have time. You don't.

So now I'm telling them.

I just wish G was here to read them.

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