Today I came across a photo I hadn’t seen in years. In it, my Opa (‘grandfather’ to all you non-Germans out there) is opening up a present – Christmas, birthday, father’s day… I can’t recall, nor does it really matter.
What matters is that look on his face. I don’t think I’ve seen a more genuine display of happiness and surprise. I’d like to believe it really had nothing to do with the cheap Sears-brand chain saw, but rather for the fact that he was surrounded with the people he loved.
This is one of the very few pictures i have with my Opa and I together… I was young here, I’d guess about 5 or 6. The cancer might not have even reared its ugly head yet. Now, looking at the photo, I can’t help but notice that ash tray sitting next to him, an ominous foreshadowing device…
As the cancer progressed, my Opa became a shell of his former self. Even a 7 year old has no trouble figuring out such things. Our once beloved game of ‘Giving a George to the Rugrats’ transformed from a greatly anticipated event to a confusing, fear-inducing act. When his frail outstretched hand offered us our dollar bills (Georges), it wasn’t our Opa we were seeing any more. And I no longer wanted his money. The promise of a chance to run down the ice cream truck just wasn’t as enticing as it once was. I would have (still would, for that matter) trade all the Georges in the world for a chance to have my Opa healthy once again.
My grandfather is now buried at the Presidio in San Francisco. It’s a gorgeous plot of land, about as gorgeous as cemeteries can get, I suppose. I go and visit whenever I need to get away from things and remind myself from where it is I come. While there, I try to remember my grandfather as he was: strong, proud, honorable, hard-working. I try to remember my family as it was: adults in one room playing penny poker, while us kids tried to figure out what magic was happening one room over. I try to remember this photo of my grandfather with his wide eyes and genuine smile….
Smile on Opa.