photo by Mini – Owner
Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy, days of summer
Those days of soda and pretzels and beer
– “Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer” by Nat King Cole
In the fall, right before my grandparents moved to an apartment ten minutes away from my mother, my grandfather bought a brand new car.
When my mother told me on Skype, I just started laughing. I could just imagine my mother and my grandmother yelling at him “Are you crazy?!”, and him being stubborn and buying it anyway. Mom just smirked and said it was easy to laugh when you didn’t have to deal with him all the time. He was a gregarious, cheerful, outgoing man, but he was also stubborn and difficult. Buying a new car when he’d only be able to drive for maybe another few years was just like him.
That Christmas, I bought him a special “Safe Driving” charm from the local Shinto shrine. It was a light blue felted piece of cardboard, embroidered with Chinese characters that I knew he wouldn’t even understand as writing. “Here, Grandpa,” I said. “This is to protect you while you’re driving. It’s Japanese.”
“Huh? I can’t read this!” he said.
“It’s like a St. Christopher medal in the car, Dad,” Mom said.
“It’s for your new car,” I smiled. He shrugged, smiled and put it in his pocket.
I’m sure he bought the car in preparation for his first summer in a new place, so that he could go to sports games and parades. Because he had always gone to sports games and parades, and he always would. He’d sit on a worn-out lawn chair, with the plastic netting fraying at the edges, and he’d watch the parade go by with a smile on his face. And occasionally, I’d sit with him. I just wish it had more than “occasionally.”
When I was older and in college, I’d still manage to go to a parade once or twice a year with him. The funny thing was, he would start talking about things I’d never heard him talk about before. Old friends and family members I would never meet. The war, his time in Europe. My parents’ divorce. How much he loved his daughter. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me, or her. I’d usually just sit and listen, not knowing what to say, and he’d talk until he had nothing more to say, and then he would act like he hadn’t said anything at all. Then the parade would be over, and we’d pack up the lawn chairs and put them in the trunk of his car. He always had them in there, just in case.
I’ve only seen the new car maybe once. I don’t even remember what it looks like.
A week after he died, one of my coworkers came up to me during lunch with a small envelope. I smiled at her, thinking it was some sort of translation work, until I got a glance at the characters.
There’s a Japanese custom where coworkers collect some condolence money for a coworker who has lost a family member; it’s called “koden 香典”. Usually they hand over this money at the funeral, but since I wasn’t able to attend my grandfather’s, they just decided to hand it to me now. I hadn’t even thought of that. I knew about the custom, but I hadn’t even thought…
“I gathered something from everyone in our division, plus some people who used to be here, like C-kacho,” she explained, pulling out a folded list of names. “I even got some from your friends working on the coast.” Along with my coworkers’ names were S-kun, Y-kun, Potato-san. Junya. My eyes filled with tears, but I smiled anyway.
My coworkers and friends thought of my and my family, and my grandfather, and I hadn’t expected that. I know it’s a custom, and it’s something that’s expected here, but I didn’t even think that I would be included in something like that. It’s hard to explain. I just know that I’m honored to work with these people, and my life is so much richer for having met them. I don’t even know what else to say.
I hope that he knew that.
There was a general meeting/party for the Prefectural Office Running Club, so I went into town to sit in a warm tatami room with cold beer and good friends. As we were all introducing ourselves and talking about our goals for the year, an older gentleman stood up and starting talking about his recent experience running a 100 (!!) kilometer race.
“It took me around 11 hours,” he said, to thunderous applause. “I gotta say, it was rough. It was really rough. I thought I was going to give up so many times. But then towards the end, I remembered that my three grandchildren were waiting for me at the finish line. So I gathered my strength, and as I approached, they ran towards me and we went across the finish line, hand in hand.”
Everybody awwed, and I looked down at my glass. My chest felt tight and my eyes a little hot. I grabbed my beer and steadied my hand.
This one’s for you, Grandpa.
There were other Grandpas, and there were other Granddaughters out there. And this was my first reminder that I wasn’t part of that anymore.
Lately, on my runs, I imagine that my grandfather is cheering me on from the sidelines whenever I start to get tired. He’s never seen me run, but I could imagine him being there at the finish line of some marathon. But I’ve done these sort of things before – imagining the Most Beautiful Man run alongside me or that my friends on the coast would be pushing me forward. Okay, so I have fever dreams because I’m a weenie who still can’t run a little bit of distance without wanting to be lazy.
But on my last run, at about the halfway mark I looped by the industrial district and started heading home when I suddenly felt a bit strange. As I imagined my grandfather, he suddenly seemed to be right there beside me, running with me. I’ve only known my grandfather as an old man, but he seemed younger, maybe in his 30s or 40s. Of course, there was nothing actually there, but I just felt like he was running with me. On a narrow gravel road through an orchard, he was running with me.
I don’t know if I believe in Heaven or an afterlife. I was raised Catholic, so that belief in angels and life after death is always going to be there, in some way. Even if it’s just because I’m afraid of death and dying, and I really hope that this is not all there is. I’m not really superstitious, and I don’t believe in ghosts, but I don’t know. I just felt something. Maybe it was only my own mind. Maybe the rhythm of the music and the rhythm of my feet had lulled my brain into a trance. All I knew was I wasn’t so tired anymore.
Around the end of my run, I had snapped out of it. It felt like he had looked around, and saw my life. He saw what made me so happy here. He saw the people I love. And he saw that I was going to be okay. My grandpa, who never made it to Japan. Maybe in some way, he could do that now.
He always used to ask me when I was coming home. I just had a feeling that he had finally seen where home was for me, as we ran through vegetable fields in Morioka.
always the summers are slipping away
find me a way for making it stay
- Trains, by Porcupine Tree