Friday, August 9, 2002

Harold sent a bunch of people e-mails this afternoon, asking if we’d like to come out to the Crown and Anchor for drinks after work/school/whatever. So I got down there at about six and had drinks with a rotating crowd of AMODA volunteers, Harold’s CS departmentmates, and art scenesters — until about eleven, when I finally got just a bit too tired to really participate much.

I came home and the first message on my voicemail was from my mom. She’s up in Pennsylvania right now with my dad, on an unexpected visit to my grandparents to help out with my grandfather. A few weeks ago he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. The message said, briefly, that my grandfather had passed away in his favorite chair, at the house at about six-thirty this evening. Five-thirty Austin time. While I sat out in the west mall downloading mp3s with my laptop.

I called my mom at eleven-thirty, as soon as I got the message. Twelve-thirty PA time. I woke her up, but she was happy to hear from me. She told me the more complete story, that he seemed to feel better this morning, that she and my dad left the house to go to the bookstore (my dad picked up some Entenmann’s doughnuts for my grandfather while they were out). They came home and my mom was considering what to do for dinner while they took him downstairs and set him in his favorite chair. He fell asleep and when they checked him a few minutes later he had died.

Chris McCambridge, the neighbor, came over and they called the coroner to take the body. I don’t know what happened after that. I can’t imagine. I honestly can’t. I have no idea how I would behave the evening after my father or spouse died in our home. Mom said my grandmother is taking it well. Don’t know what that means, either.

We agreed that I should come up to PA Sunday, to console and to attend the funeral. To speak a few words. My mom wants me to write a little something to say, but I don’t know what to say, exactly. I don’t think I want to broadcast whatver I’m feeling about it. Seems private. Private to me. But I don’t know. But I’ll be in Pennsylvania for a couple weeks, so don’t look for me at my usual haunts.

The best private memorial I could think of was to dig up and listen to a tape recording I made of him a couple years ago (almost exactly two years ago). Something had put me into a documentarian mood that summer — I blame Claire — and I decided to take my little handhelp cassette recorder and talk to my grandparents. Seperately. Asking about their younger lives, their growing up, trying to figure out a little more about the reality of their lives seventy and eighty years ago.

I remember writing out a structure for questions on white paper and sitting my grandfather down — outside on the front porch, I think — sitting him down and asking what questions I could think of. So I’m listening to it now (and just passed a funny section about the differences between Diefendurfers in different towns — Diefendurfer differences). Feels strange to have access to these stories that do feel very old, so much different from anything I ever knew, and really idyllic in a way. Like all those stereotype images of kids in the nineteen-twenties with brown caps running along dust roads, getting excited about the quirky uncle who had a device that would let them watch a live motion picture on a little screen for a half-hour, between three and three-thirty int he afternoon. But you had to turn the crank to watch. Now he’s talking about enjoying silent Tom Hicks cowboy serials. They lasted about an hour, maybe less. Hoot Gibson. Bill Cody. Other cowboy picture stars of the time. Then the talkies came in around the late-twenties.

It’s like excavating a time capsule. I feel like I should transcribe them and put them up on the web. The idea in the first place was to put together a radio documentary piece with them. Such a thing might only really appeal to me and my family — but maybe not. Seems like a treasure-trove of great detail about life before the second world war. And he’s not making it sound like it was great or terrible. He’s simply reminiscing. It’s very simple.

Anyway. Time for bed, now, I think. I’ll have the chance to reflect upon this during the next few days. When events like this take place, I feel older. Like the world has changed forever. It’ll be my turn soon enough, I guess. Can’t ask for a much better deal than to have eighty-seven good years and to pass calmly, painlessly in your own home, with your wife and child nearby.