I was the youngest person at our family Easter celebration this year. One person in her eighties, five in their seventies, two in their fifties, one forties, one thirties, and me. I had a few odd conversations that reminded me that there is so much I don’t know about life, and that being a precocious 26-year old doesn’t count for much in comparison to the slow accumulation of waking up and getting out of bed every day for the better part of a century. You see some things, during all that time.
On the car ride down my great-aunt was saying how she feels so tired all the time. She actually said she felt ready to move on. My parents, joshingly, were chiding her about not meaning what she said. But she replied, “You don’t know how it feels to get up every day.” She talked about how her husband died too soon, and how yesterday she was at his gravesite and said, “Where in the world are you, Dan?” And believe me, that shut up everybody in the car.
Later on in the day I was talking to my grandfather, who is one of the best men I’ve ever known, who is like a second father to me. I carry his name and I am so proud of that. He was giving me his standard talk (or lecture, let’s keep it real) about work and preparation and life and love and family and generosity. I actually got to tell him some things I’ve never said before to him – about how well he has done for this family, about what he has made possible – and he told me that even though he doesn’t need to work any more, he still does it out of love. How much he loves us and wants us to be happy. He talked a lot about working hard in school and making sure you have a fallback plan, general lessons for life he’s been telling me so many years now.
At one point he took a weird turn for the macho: “You don’t want to be fuckin’ cutting down trees for your life, you know?” I had no idea what to say. What was he talking about? What’s the proper reply to that? “No, I sure fuckin’ don’t”? We don’t cuss in this family. But like a Cadbury crème egg, I know that behind that crusty chocolate exterior of bumbled curse words is the warm gooey caramel center of familial duty and the love of a strong and gentle patriarch, in the best sense of the word. Then he was like, "You want to be successful in your life, and happy, and then you can decide if you want to go cut some wood, you know what I'm saying?" Actually, um, no. I don't.
On the way home my mom asked me what we had been talking about, and we laughed about it in the car. He also told me he was proud of me, very proud, and my mom said he had never said that to her. I guess that is true, and even if it is, perhaps it just shows you how much people can grow and change and learn through every one of their days on earth. It was quite a day.