Naturally, we expect the holidays to be insane. While we don’t have children, Aaron and I do have divorced parents, so where we catch a break on chaotic kid-wrangling, we make up for with an insane number of events to attend. Thanksgiving was no exception this year.
The day began with fast and furious cookie baking. We were just shy of a full 3 dozen massive chocolate chip cookies when I surrendered to the rush and quit trying to round out the number across all of our destinations. Three plates with 10, 10 and 9 cookies would have to do.
We hurried to collect the mashed potatoes, cookies and ourselves in the car – then took off for our day of fast hellos, even faster goodbyes and much too fast driving between them.
With the traditional $5 bundle of Black Friday ads in tow, we unpacked ourselves into my grandma’s living room. With the arrival of my nephews and plenty to talk about after our trip to Chile and surprise engagement, we never even got to flipping through the paper. As we laughed at the insanity of our engagement story, grandpa chimed in that “I have a mountain story for you” – gesturing toward Aaron.
Grandpa hadn’t been feeling well. He’d spent the previous two weeks in and out of doctor’s offices, chiropractors and various scans. What had seemed like basic back pain was getting worse and – with the holiday – the doctor had brushed him off until the end of his personal vacation. The 80-year-old man spent Thanksgiving popping pain meds to dull the stabs – but they made him drowsy and only barely helped. When we arrived, he was sleeping in his recliner. By the time he’d woken up and joined the conversation, his phrases ran together in in monotone – leaving you wondering just where the conversation was actually heading.
Through our lunch, he mentioned multiple times that he needed to tell Aaron the mountain story. And even has we made our first rushed exit, he reminded us again that he would have to tell us later.
I’ve always hated leaving things hanging like that.
A boomerang: in high school, my favorite English teacher suggested that we ask our grandparents’ about their favorite holiday memories as children. We were encouraged to write the stories down and submit them for extra credit. Being the one class I truly loved and succeeded in, I skipped the bonus task and focused on other upcoming finals.
Eight months later, we learned that my Grandma Louise had cancer. Not only that, it had already spread through much of her body. By the time we reached the next holiday season, she passed away. I never asked her about her favorite Christmases. I never documented any of her stories. Many of them come to mind from time to time – fleeting. I rarely get them written down before my mind has moved along. She’s certainly not forgotten but deserves to have her stories written. I often regret not having her own words to tell them.
Walking out of my grandparents’ house on Thanksgiving freshened that same wound – he was sick, and his stories are my favorite, and I’d hopped into the car leaving the absolute worst of cliff-hangers.
He went to the emergency room and was admitted to the hospital days later. After a couple of days, they moved him to the hospital in my hometown. I visited immediately. Once again, he reminded me that he had a mountain story for Aaron. He refused to tell me.
Two days later, Aaron returned with me. Seeing grandpa in significantly better shape was relieving. This time, though, we had to ask for the mountain story.
Between sips of his tea – which he assured us was terrible, watered-down Pepsi – he gave a quick recap of how we got engaged. “Why is he telling us our own story?” I thought. “Surely he knows this story is about us.”
“…climbed up all that way and she was so tired,” he set up. “Well,” he paused. “She probably wouldn’t have made it back from there without you. That was a pretty good way to guarantee she’d say ‘yes.'”
In all the chaos of the holiday – sick or not – grandpa was still patiently planning the punchline to our engagement.