Thursday, September 10, 2009

My Stories about Grandpa

Now that I have had the official acknowledgement about the previous post from my mom, who said that all information seemed correct, I will go on to tell 3 stories about my grandpa. Two of them affected me profoundly. The first is just a fun memory.

I am five years younger than my brother (6 younger than my sister), so when I went to kindergarten, my mom went to school to get a degree in nursing. I came home on the bus every day at noon, and my grandpa was always waiting in his car at the end of the driveway to pick me up and take me to his house for rest of the afternoon. Since Grandma was working, he had to babysit me every day. (I'm sure he would have rather been doing other things, so that was nice of him.)

He always made lunch for us. Lots of tomato soup and sandwiches. I do remember playing Beauty Shop with him. He had long, thick silver hair that he combed back, and I would laboriously comb it forward and put curlers in it. (My cousin did the same things when he babysat her years and years later.) I also remember that one time he went outside and I was standing by the door waiting for him to come back. I must have been fiddling with the door because it accidently locked. He tried to explain through the door how to unlock it, but it was one of those tiny latches, and I couldn't hear him well, so he finally gave up and crawled through the woodshoot in the basement. I was so ashamed that he had to resort to crawling through the woodshoot just to get back into his own house!

Land of the Rising Sun
Back in the 80's, when Karate Kid was still a popular movie, my grandpa brought a hat (like a baseball cap) over to our house. He explained that he'd been driving and picked it up on the side of the road. He was always finding stuff on the side of the road. I guess that is what happens when you always have your eyes peeled for aluminum cans. Anyway, this hat was white, red and black. It showed a rising sun on it, and there were some Chinese characters as well. He told me it was from Japan, the land of the rising sun. It peaked my interest, and I kept that hat for a long, long time.

Until recently, I thought my first exposure to Japan was in 7th grade when I decided to do a country report about it, but why did I choose Japan when all my classmates were doing European countries? I was thinking about personal memories I had about my grandpa, and this one crossed my mind. I hadn't thought of that hat in years, but it actually was the first thing I ever owned with reference to Japan. And, it most certainly was the first time someone had told me that Japan was the Land of the Rising Sun.

The Sick Pillow
I tell this story to my high school students every year, but I have never shared it on this blog.

During my sophomore year of high school, I was a cheerleader. I was also preparing to study abroad in Japan for my junior year, and with all this trying to maintain my GPA since colleges would be looking at my sophomore grades. I may have felt a bit stressed out because I started having mysterious pains. I couldn't move my joints. Most of the time, I felt frozen, except when I was cheering at a game. That was the only time my body would actually work for me. This went on for weeks, and we saw the doctor about it, but he had no idea what to tell us.

Finally, one night, I was writing an essay about a short story we'd read in English class, and this story really struck a chord with me. Tears were streaming down my face as a I wrote the essay. I just felt so trapped and frustrated. Then, I grabbed an old ratty pillow that my grandpa had given me recently and I just hugged it to my chest.

Instantly, I felt better. This was no ordinary pillow, I thought. I slept with that pillow that night, and it gave me peace.

How did I come to have this amazing pillow?

A few weeks before, I happened to be visiting my grandparents, who lived only 5 miles away. While I was there, my grandpa got a new chair. He always sat at his place at the table where everything was within his reach - a shelf full of doo dads, his magazines, writing utensils, etc. He never had to leave his chair if he didn't want to. So, the chair had become worn out, and the floor beneath was showing signs of wear as well. My grandma had bought him an office chair with wheels. As he settled into his new chair, he grabbed a small pillow from behind his back.

"Well, I guess I don't need this anymore."

I looked at the pillow. It was a faded pink decorated with blue, paisley butterflies. The light blue fringe sewn around the edges was pilled and ratty.

"I'll take it." I said. There was something special about this pillow, maybe.

That was the pillow I hugged to my chest that night I sat on my bed crying. What was I about to do with my life? Why had I decided to leave Antigo and go to Japan for a whole year? How would this affect me? How the heck did I become a basketball cheerleader? Was I putting too much pressure on myself?

Later, my joint pains went away, but I realized this pillow could be used for other things. When I had a headache, I would lay my head on the pillow and it went away. Same thing when I got stomachaches. By summer, I had decided that this pillow just had to accompany me to Japan.

On the way to our final Rotary Youth Exchange Convention which took place in Michigan, I began sewing a new cover and fringe for the pillow. The faded pink and paisley butterflies just wouldn't do. We rode a bus there, so I brought my sewing kit on the bus with me and sewed the fringe on by hand. I am not a sewer, so believe me when I say, this was a big achievement for me. I was to leave for Japan in just a few short weeks.

In Japan, the pillow got a new name "The Sick Pillow" because it helped me through every illness and bout of homesickness that I went through. Eight months into my stay, I was feeling pretty comfortable in Japan and at my school.

When I got the news that Sara's brother, Brian, had died in a car accident, I literally screamed into the phone at first. My best friend's brother. He was only one year older than us. I knew she must need her friends around her, but I couldn't be there. Neither she nor my parents wanted me to rush home, so I did the next best thing. I boxed up the Sick Pillow and sent it to her.

I hope the Sick Pillow helped her through those hard times, especially those first few years of dealing with the trauma. There were times when I really wanted the Sick Pillow, but just had to make do with the memory of it. When I visited Sara throughout our college years and after, I wondered if she still had the Sick Pillow, but I was afraid to ask.

Then, sometime after Sara got married (a few years ago), I received a box in the mail. I wasn't expecting anything and it wasn't my birthday. Imagine my surprise when I opened the box to see the Sick Pillow there in all its glory...with a matching green flower pin attached.

In her note, Sara explained that she no longer needed the Sick Pillow and that maybe I would like it back. She'd added the pin.

Reunited again. I cried.

When I tell my students this story, I don't tell it quite like this. What I do tell them is that "prized possessions" are important and meaningful, but that people and relationships are much more important. Rather than worry and feel sad over the loss of my Sick Pillow, I had to learn to rely on the relationships I had begun to develop during my year abroad. When I felt homesick or ill, instead of turning to the Sick Pillow, I had to turn to my host family (the Satos), my best friend (Chiharu) and my new love (Yusuke, whom I met shortly after).

Well, there it is. Tribute post to Grandpa over, but this experience along with one of the online classes I am doing called "Beautiful Evidence" has made me realize how grateful I should be for what I do have.


Anonymous said...

Hello.I just found your blog through illahee.

So sorry for your loss;your grandfather sounds like an amazing person and quite a character.And thank you for sharing those stories;The last is so touching.The power of love is something that cannot be measured.

Lulu said...

Sorry for the loss of your grandfather- it sounds as if he was an amazing man and I was happy to hear he lived a full life for 99 years.

Your memories about him are going to get you through many tough times, I am sure. Isn`t it amazing that a hat he gave you so long ago sparked your interest in Japan and look what happened. That is also one hell of an amazing pillow.

My grandfather in Australia (other one was in NZ) died when I was only 8 so my memories of him are jumbled at times. I remember he always sat in the same chair, his pants always seemed just a little bit too short and he rolled tabacco and smoked like a chimney.

And when he went to live in the care facility (he had alsythmers, I am not sure how to spell but he was diagnosed when I was very small, only 1 or 2) he used to eat maltesers all day long as they were easy to eat without his teeth.

It is strange the memories that people remember.

Anonymous said...

Truly sorry for the loss of your pop- but the picture with the curlers had me laughing, I hope those brought a smile to your face in memory of.

Have a fab weekend.

Michele at Sweet Leaf said...

Nice story about Grappa, and linking to Japan. Nice story about the sick pillow, too. What's this Beautiful Evidence class you're taking?--Your Sister