My grandfather lives in eternal autumn. He is leaves crunching underfoot. Windfall apples and pears among the grasses. Orange and yellow and red and brown. The golden light of the October sun.
I sit on his lap reading Longfellow from a marble-bound volume. This is the forest primeval. The whispering pines and the hemlocks. He is sandpaper cheeks. Old Spice and Lectric Shave. Horn-rimmed glasses. A favored pink shirt. A four-colored pen. His eyes are blue. His hair still blond. His hand is strong. His touch is gentle. His teeth are all his own.
We kneel together in flickering shadows. He is frankincense and candle wax. Wood worn smooth and lemon oil. Fish on Friday and Saturday Night Suppers. Paternosters and Ave Marias. A well-thumbed missal in Bible-black leather. Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus. He is a firm handshake. A sturdy hymn. A tweed overcoat and matching hat. Ite, missa est. Deo Gratias.
I watch him tend his garden. He is tomato vines and butter-beans. Summer squash and sugar snaps. Petunias, hydrangeas and geraniums. Tiger Lily and Butterfly Bush. From out of the earth he has called them. He calls each one by name.
By a soft light on the porch he sits. I hear the whispered rustle of his paper. The kitchen is bright with activity. Nana gossips and chides, directs and instructs. We are running water and clattering silverware. The percolator coughs and sputters. I stack the dishes one by one. We chatter and tidy. We laugh out loud. What does he make of us?
I half-carry him to his favorite chair. He is scars and bones. His skin is translucent. His eyes are clear. His face is set. His smile is thin. I set out soup and sandwiches. We pretend he is not dying.
He lived the life he chose. This was the epitaph my great-uncle gave my grandfather. He lived the life he chose. I had never met him before. I never saw him again. But clearly the two men were brothers. Their eyes were clear and blue. They did not waste a word. They lived the lives they chose.
I loved my grandfather and he loved me. I knew him as well as any boy of 15 knows a man of 72, which is to say, not very. But we made the most of the time we had, and that is enough. He was bear-hugs and still waters. He was a warm spot by the kitchen pot-belly. He was Poor Richard's Almanack. He laughed with his eyes. He lived the life he chose.
No one ever really dies, of course. The people we have loved do not pass away, they pass within, for truly love never fails. My grandfather is beyond time now. He is everywhere he ever was. He is places he had never been, and all at once. He lives in my father. He lives in my heart. He lives in my son who bears his name. And he lives in eternal autumn. That is enough.