I remember the way he smelled. Like old pages, and wood polish. He smelled like knowledge, at least to me he did. I remember his accent, the way he spoke to us, never really telling stories, not of his youth, or his experience. Not of his past, or his adventures He never told us of his time abroad, the war he fought, how he came to be alone, how he came wash ashore a small island he had left 4 decades past. He always only seemed to be able to speak on the topic of the things he had learned, like his whole life was told through snippets of random facts, gathered over time and distance, as he traveled the journey of his life.
He spoke a little Spanish, a little French, a little German, and a whole lot of English, their English and ours. Always jolly as he related something or other. He was Uncle, though nobody could ever tell us how he was related. He was just that man that came to visit on a Sunday afternoon. He helped Daddy build things, and complimented Mommy in a fatherly kind of way, he sat around our table and took such pleasure in the food we took for granted. I remember the way he ate, savoring every bite, even as he struggled to chew over his ill-fitting dentures. Closing his eyes tight with every forkful, closed lids and grey lashes and brows, magnified by his ancient glasses. He was strange, as strange as they come but he was ours, even though we couldn’t figure out how we had come to claim him.
He loved his drink, I remember that. “Agua Caliente” was what he called it, when he and Daddy sat on the veranda watching the sun cast shadows and throw brilliant spotlights over the island. Gold, Magenta, orange, all fading into deep blues and shadow. I remember he would slip me a taste of the fire water, hiding from Daddy, who both knew and approved of a girl with a tolerance for imbibing.
I know he was wise, he told me once that my story was going to be one for the ages. Telling me to treasure mey experiences, the good ones but especially the bad ones, because those are the ones he said, that leave the greatest impressions on your sense of self. They make you wise, he told me, and maybe a little crazy. Not that crazy was at all a bad thing, on the contrary, it was the key to surviving the ‘sane’ people. I can smile at that now.
As I pack his books away, setting aside the Hemingway novel he requested to be buried with. His records were all gone, and his clothes all donated, well what could be donated from the 70’s time capsule that was this old man’s closet.
I came across it in the corner, a parcel wrapped in brown paper and twine, with my name on it. My name. Had he thought of me as he lay dying? For some reason I was curious of what he thought of the woman who grew from the child he had held in awe. He never looked at me with the disappointment my parents did, even when I was too ashamed of me to look him in the eye.
A parcel with my name that I opened with reverence, and inside? A leather bound journal full of blank pages. Written only on one, the very first in his neat calligraphy.
“Blank pages beget a story for the ages. Bless my soul with your stories in these pages.”