Wednesday, December 14, 2011

my grandpa, kevin arnold, and me.

{photo by Bloto Angeles}

When I was 20, I had the opportunity to edit a book my grandfather wrote.

Both of my grandfathers were writers. They were men who believed in writing things down, in recording memories and spiritual truths and humorous anecdotes, in passing stories down through the generations.

My grandfathers took their writing seriously. Sure, some of it remained on yellow legal pads or in family vacation newsletters, but as they became older, they decided to do something with this passion they possessed. They self-published their books, and they sit on my shelves, just as important as the Tolstoy and the Lamott, the Sedaris and the Alcott.

A few weeks ago, I pulled down my grandfather's memoir, a book he'd titled Back Roads to a Better Life: Believe It or Not. That "believe it or not" portion of the title is important. During the months I spent reading and editing my grandfather's book, I'd come across passages that just didn't make sense. My five feet, four inch tall grandfather, a star on his high school basketball team? Capable of dunking the ball into a basket at a moment's notice? Unless height averages have changed -- and hey, maybe they have -- that just didn't ring true. When I brought that particular passage to my grandfather's attention, he winked at me: "That's why it's called 'believe it or not.' I want the reader to decide what's real or what's not."

Jordan and I have taken to watching The Wonder Years each night before bed. I take a little bit of pride in the fact that I introduced Jordan to little Kevin Arnold and the truths he learns in 20 minutes of memory recall each episode. In an episode we watched recently, Kevin remembers trying out -- accidentally, really -- for the junior high baseball team. Aside from one "lucky hit," Kevin's really not very good. But at the close of the episode, in his final moment at bat, he hits another one out of the park, and the crowd goes wild. He's hoisted on the shoulders of his friends and teammates, and you can hear adult Kevin narrating over the hooplah: "Maybe that's not exactly the way it happened, but that's the way it should've happened, and that's the way I like to remember it. If dreams and memories sometimes get confused, well, that's as it should be."

Even though it didn't make much sense to me at the time, didn't make much sense as I slaved away over commas and misspellings and technical glitches, I'm glad my grandpa was creative with his memories, glad he hid a few dreams throughout his life's narratives.

I'm glad, too, that he had a few dreams for me.

As I pulled his book down from my shelf the other night, I caught a glimpse of the first page. I'd forgotten, somehow, that he'd signed it for me, given a copy to every friend and family member for Christmas that year, so proud of what he and I had accomplished together. Not a year later, he passed away fighting a bout of lung cancer so quick and so sudden that he was gone really before we'd known what to do.

We're so lucky he'd taken the time to write it all down first.

And on that first page of my copy, there in my grandfather's handwriting, I'm reminded that he wanted me to write it all down too. He had dreams for me. He believed in me. He had confidence in me that I still don't quite have myself.

His legacy extends far beyond his written pages, but I'm glad my grandfather took the time to write it down anyway, glad he chose to express through the written word how much he had planned for me, how much -- in his own way -- he loved me and wanted my dreams to come true.

Not everything is eternal, I know. The paper of the books I love so will deteriorate and rot and be put to the flame one day. But words? Words, I think, last forever.

That's something my grandpa knew, and it's something he wanted me to know. He told me so right there in the pages of his book.


Vicki said...

Oh, Annie! I loved this post. What a writer YOU are!

Cherry Tree Lane said...

Yes, Annie.
I try to remind myself that few things are as important as what I chronicle for my children and the legacy I leave. Sure, they will have memories of me that are imprinted on their mind, but how wonderful would it be if they could sit down and read what I had to share? In my handwriting?
I think they would much prefer that.

So, I write.

Kelly Sauer said...

And the Word Himself, eternal...

Golly, Annie - I'd read a book you wrote. I've LOVED spending my evening with you! Thanks for putting up with my slew of commentary!

You're a gifted writer - I've been riveted. :-)

TefMarie said...

That is a wonderful moment you'll always have. I love your way with words too!