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Inside the front cover, like all of the other books I had looked at, there were two names written in elegant script, Anna and Arval Hall. I had always been told that my grandparents were voracious readers, but it never seemed real to me since they had both been sick for as long as I could remember. The stories my mother told me about my grandparents usually centered on this library: my grandparents sitting here for hours reading for hours while she did her homework, my mother sneaking in and looking at the magazines only to get caught by my grandfather (the room was off limits to over inquisitive children). Of course when I was a child it had been off limits to me as well. But now that I was twenty-five I was allowed to look around, especially if it meant that I was out of my mother’s hair for a few hours. It was called a library even though in reality it was little more than an elongated closet with a window at the far end. One side of the room was piled so high with books, magazines, and letters that it seemed they were placed there by some mad architect in a last desperate act to create something great. The other side of the room held a large wooden writing desk, but the pile of books had long ago enveloped it, leaving only small windows of oak peeking out of the leather bound volumes.
I was there for hours, not sure what I was looking for, and slowly building a wall of books around myself. My brother walked in but I didn’t notice since he was partially hidden from my view by a stack of encyclopedias. “Hey Ben, did you know that mom has been looking for you for half an hour?” Eric, my oldest brother, stood in the doorway looking like he had never really made it out of the eighties. His hair was curled and over moussed, and the jean jacket that he always wore was getting so old
and patched that it looked more like a quilt that a coat. “And you better take that hat off while you are inside, mom will kick your ass if she sees you wearing it.” “I told her I was going to be in the library, and if she can’t even remember that then she won’t notice the hat.” I said, as I pulled the brim of the hat down as if to make it immune to my mother’s scrutiny. “Well anyway, she wanted me to tell you that Granddad wants to go to the cemetery again and look at his plot.” He grinned. For the past ten years our grandfather had told us that this was the last year he was going to be around. And every year that we came to visit him he took us to his plot in the cemetery just to make sure that we would know where he was after he had died. It didn’t matter that we had all been out there only a day ago. In fact, now that his wife had died after so many years he was more adamant than ever that we know where he planned to spend eternity. “Will granddad be going too?” I asked, knowing that the trip to the cemetery was the only time he ever spoke more than a few words at a time and that I wouldn’t want to miss that. “I doubt it. There are so many family members and friends here that they will take up most of the room in the room in the cars. I think Granddad wants everyone to go just so he can have a few minutes of peace. Anyway, take your time in here. I’ll just tell her that you have been buried under all of these books. She is so caught up in arguing with Aunt Gene over who gets the antique dresser in the living room that she won’t be ready to go for a while.” He said as he walked away still grinning. The battle over grandmother’s stuff had been raging for days since she had left four daughters and no will that told who got what. This battle had been a great source of entertainment to Eric and me since neither one of us were considered a threat for taking anything
important. Granddad had been little help in refereeing these disputes, as he spent the days since we had been there wandering from room to room. It seemed he was practicing to be a ghost, making no noise and not talking unless one of his daughters asked him how he was. I stood up to stretch and noticed through the window that the battle over grandmother’s stuff had spilled over into the back yard. My mother and Aunt Mary were discussing who got the gazebo, and my Granddad was wandering around what used to be a garden looking at the ground. I could almost see the garden through his eyes. Tulips, azaleas, and hyacinth abounded where there was now only withered brown stalks and the remnants of wire that was used to hold up the tomato vines. “Daddy, are you thirsty? Do you want some milk?” My mother said raising her head and noticing for the first time that my Granddad was out there with them. He raised one hand and motioned no; he was self conscious about speaking since his last stroke. “OK daddy, just let me know when you are thirsty and I will make you something.” My mother said. My Granddad just smiled and patted my mother on the shoulder as he walked slowly past her and back into the house. My granddad was never a large man, but the years had made him smaller and he had as many white hairs coming out of his chin as he did coming out of the top of his head. He made it around the house with the aid of a walker that had a cloth bag tied to the front of it. Inside it were a picture of my grandmother and a picture of his first great granddaughter. He was fiercely proud of her, and his light blue eyes would shine ever time he handed the picture to someone, which he did quite often. As I turned back to my pile of books I realized that my pile had become a wall completely blocking my exit. I decided it was probably time to try and put them back up on the
shelves, but didn’t really think that where they went really mattered so long as I was able to get back to the door. As I stretched to place an old Bible on one of the higher shelves, however, I kicked the bottom of a stack of magazines causing an avalanche of light reading. At least forty years of National Geographic and Sears catalogues toppled over with a collective flapping sound that sounded like an entire colony of bats taking flight at once. “For God’s sake Ben, what are you doing?” I looked up to realize that my mother was standing in the doorway with one hand on her hip and a glare that only a mother can pull off. She always had a knack for making me feel like I was twelve. “I swear, I was just coming back here to see if you were ready to go to the cemetery with us and I find you destroying your Grandfather’s library.” “I’m sorry mom,” I said. “I was just putting some books away and the whole stack just went.” I began to try and slide magazines out of the middle of the floor, but I may as well have been raking water. “Well, I guess that you will just have to stay here and clean this up while the rest of us go. Try not to make too much noise though, Daddy is staying and lord knows that this is the last thing that he needs to see right now. And what have I told you about wearing your hat inside? You know how rude that is.” With that she gave me one last glare for good measure and left. Even after she had left the room I could hear her stomping rhythmically until I guess she realized what she was doing and stopped. I don’t know how long I worked on cleaning up, only that it felt like a futile effort. For every magazine or book that I was able to get into place another two fell onto the floor. Finally, when I was down to only a few browned magazines and one particularly large volume of “Macaulay’s History,” I noticed a rare bare spot atop all of the shelves well out of my reach. I
pulled over a chair and stretched to reach it, at the same time trying not to repeat my earlier act of mass destruction. When I got up there though, I saw an old hat buried under a thick layer of dust and sitting in the spot that I had thought was vacant. I quickly pulled the hat out and replaced it with the books and sat back down in the middle of the floor. At first glance, I had thought that it was an old military hat. My Granddad had been in the Army during World War II. But when I got a closer look I realized it was an old postal workers hat from when he was a mailman. At one time it had been a dark blue with a wellshined, glossy black rim. But the years had faded it almost gray, and the metal badge on the front was covered with dust and grime making it difficult to see the old insignia. I turned it over in my hands and looked inside. The old leather headband inside the hat was cracked and slightly out of its original circular form. No doubt it had fit my Granddad’s head quite well after almost twenty-five years of service. I ran my hands along the old band, hoping maybe that the oils and sweat retained by it would give me some insight into my Granddad’s life. At the front of the hat though, I felt a strange bulge. I gently pulled the band back and found a small, wallet-sized photo of my grandparents. They were both very young in the photo and smiling like they had just been married. My granddad was in his military outfit and my grandmother was wearing an old bonnet with a flower in it like the ones that were popular in the thirties. Then realization came slowly, like a fog lifting. My Grandmother hadn’t died last week when her heart stopped beating. She had died years ago when the Alzheimer’s had taken away her mind and memory. And Granddad was not making us all go to the cemetery out of some morbid sense of duty. He wanted us to share in his hope. He knew that both he and my
Grandmother would go somewhere better after they died, and they would be together again. Like they had been before the diseases, like they had been in the photo. I realized that my eyes were closed, I was wearing my Granddad’s hat, and that I was crying. I stood up, rubbing my eyes with the tail of my shirt, and realized that my Granddad was standing there in the doorway watching me. I was so shocked that I didn’t move for an instant, but when I did it was to take his hat off and stare fixedly at my feet. My face was blazing red, I wasn’t sure if I was more embarrassed that he had caught me wearing his hat, or that he had caught me crying. He took a few steps forward and reached out his right hand for the hat. I handed it to him and he seemed to draw inward as he held it. He turned it slowly in his small hands; the blue-gray of the hat making the veins of his hands stand out even more. Slowly, he looked up at me and smiled tentatively. He handed the hat back to me and said hoarsely “you, you.” “Oh no Granddad,” I said, now even more embarrassed “I can’t take your hat.” He took two more small steps forward, gently placed it on my head, and stepped back, grinning openly now. I couldn’t talk, or think, or move for that matter. Before I realized what I was doing though, I had picked up my old baseball cap and had put it on his head. It was significantly larger than his head, making his ears stick out even more than they already did. “Hah,” he laughed, and smiled a smile very similar to the one he had in the old photo. His blue eyes glowed as he turned to go back into the house, still wearing my hat. For the rest of the day he went from room to room showing everyone the picture of his great granddaughter, and my hat. Smiling even more when anyone would say, “I’m not sure that hat fits you so well.”
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