Dear Grandpa

George Hotchko

Dear Grandpa,

I thought I’d write to you today.  It’s been such a long time since we had a chance to sit and talk about things.  I have so many memories of you, I don’t know where to begin.  It was so long ago.

Remember when I was a little boy?  You lived with Grandma in a big white house beside a lake in Pennsylvania.  In all the time I was growing up, you never had to go off to work in a factory or a coal mine.  You did all those things before I was born.  You spent your time tending a little garden behind the big house.  Once you showed me how to graft two different apple trees together.  I was amazed when, a year later, I could go out to the tree and have a choice of different apples on one tree!  Your garden had several fruit trees and I remember at the far end of your rows of plants was a steep bank that led up to an old railroad bed.  There was a short path up the hill.  In the far corner of your garden, you had a little white shed.  I think it was once an outhouse, but I was never sure.  There were so many hoes and shovels and rakes, sacks of seeds and old bottles, that I could never see whether there was a potty hole or not.

When my family would drive down to visit you from our house in Owego, NY, we’d almost always find you on an old chair beside your shed, sitting in the shade.  Or, under the big apple tree in the yard…always sitting in the shade.  Every time we saw you, there was a pipe either in your mouth or in your vest pocket.  I remember that you had a strange pipe lighter, not like a Zippo or Bic.  It was silver and round.  It was the size of my thumb.  And, you’d push it together somehow and there’d be a flame to light your pipe.

I would always run up to you and hug you and say: “Hi, Grandpa!”  When I was a little boy.

You’d always say: “Well, if it isn’t little Paddy.  You’re so big now.”

Once my brother and I found you on the front porch…in the old rocking chair.  We begged you to tell us a ghost story.  But you said you didn’t want to scare us.  You said that sometimes when you think about those things you couldn’t sleep.  You gave in one time and told us how you were walking home from a day in the mines and you saw a friend sitting on the stonewall of a cemetery.

“Hey, George,” the guy said to you.  “How about a plug?”

You reached in your back pocket and broke off a plug of chewing tobacco and gave it to him.  You talked with him for a few minutes and then you walked on down the street.  A few blocks away, you stopped in your tracks.  You remembered that the guy had died three months earlier.  You said you’re not supposed to look back over your shoulder when you see a ghost so you ran the rest of the way home.

That story did scare me.  When I was a little boy.

I remember that you always planted potatoes in your garden.  My brothers and I giggled when you told us that for good luck, whoever planted the potatoes, had to pee on the first mound.  And, you always did, but it was never when we were around.  I wondered for years how you managed to pee on the correct potato mound in the dark of night.  Did you hold your flashlight under your arm?

Whenever one of us tried to talk to you, you always leaned over and said to talk louder into one of your ears, saying you were hard of hearing.  But, sometimes you heard us just fine.  My father thought you were “deaf” only when my grandma was trying to tell you to do something.  I still wonder about that.

Well, Grandpa, have I got news for you!  I have a grandson now!  That makes me a grandpa, just like you.  When I was a little boy.

His name is Elias and he is your Great, Great, Grandson!  He’s very adorable. (Did you think I was adorable when I was little?)

Well, I better say good-bye for now.  I’ll be seeing you sometime…someday.  We’ll have so much to talk about.  Maybe, if I’m lucky, you can tell me more ghost stories.  I don’t think I’ll be afraid to hear them when we talk again.

We’ll sit under a tree and I’ll watch you light your pipe again.  I’ll make sure we’ll be in the shade.

I think I’ll go and poke through some boxes for those old 8mm home movies my dad took of you.  I saw them a few years ago.  You didn’t seem to change much over the years.  But, I have.  A few weeks ago, I was visiting my grandson and someone took a short video.  Someday, maybe Elias will look at it and see himself as a child.  And, next to him will be an old gray-haired man.

In the old jerky, flickering films, you were holding me…when I was just a baby.  There is another one when you and I are walking, hand in hand, down the old railroad bed.

I was just a little boy.

Good-bye for now.  See you soon, Grandpa!

Love,   Paddy

P.S. Here’s a picture of your Great, Great, Grandson, Elias:

Elias Tractor February 2015

[Photo: Bob Goldstein]

P.S.S. Here’s a picture of your Great Grandson, Brian:

brianboy

The Garden of Earthly Deletes

DeleteKey

Her email: I’m sorry about what happened.  Will you forgive me?  Can you forgive me?  Will you let me come back?

My response: No, after what u said before.  If that’s the way u want things to be then don’t come home..stay with u r mom!!

Her email: Please let’s try to work things out.  I love u.

I thought of her and her broken heart…broken so many times by so many guys.

My response: That sounds like total BS to me…but maybe we can meet at the usual place…just to talk. 

My finger wavered over the SEND key.  I hesitated.  My mind was muddy from the back-and-forth emotions of the last few hours.  I moved my hand toward the DELETE key. I thought about her feelings of remorse for a nano-second and then I punched it like I was squashing a malarial Anopheles mosquito.  I was angry at what she had said to me.  A moment passed.  I wasn’t angry anymore.  I wanted to take back the email and reword it into a plea to stay with me.  But I knew it was too late.  Once that rectangular key is pressed, what was, isn’t anymore.  It was like an erasure of a dry marker on a white board.  This momentary spike of anger I felt had vanished.

Like the final email, I had erased her.  I regretted what I had done.  I failed to stem the bleeding from her soul.  I failed her.

I sat and thought about the situation for an hour.  Then I sat down and wrote a message saying I was sorry I told her to go live with her mom.  I pushed SEND this time.  After getting a cold beer from the fridge, I sat back down at the laptop.  I read in disbelief that the email had bounced back to me.  She had closed her account.  She was unavailable.  She was gone.  I had just deleted her from my life.  She always said it would probably end like this…that I would get her out of my life, that I would erase her.  That I would delete her.  She somehow knew this was coming for a year now.  And I played into her vortex of negativity.

That damn DELETE key.  How does that work, anyway?  How can you delete something?  Where does it go?  I know it exists as pulses of digital bits, but somewhere in the server’s main frame, it must still live.

It’s one of the most basic laws of science: one cannot create or destroy matter.  And, the electrons of the digital bits that make up a simple email message, are made of matter.

So, where is that email now?  Right now at this precise second?  Where are the zillions of deleted messages?

I once read that computers can’t really erase them from existence.  What I read is that in deleting, you simply remove the address.  But the information is still out there…somewhere.  A good hacker could get them back, but I didn’t know any hackers, good or bad.

So I did the only thing I could think of doing.  I took a walk.

I wandered all over the sleeping city until the eastern sky turned pink.  It was then that I spotted the long stone wall.  I had never seen this before.  I walked up to the only door, a great wooden entrance like one would find in a castle.  I looked up.  The sky was turning blue above the twenty-foot wall of grey granite rocks.

I pushed on the door and it opened.  I stepped over the threshold.  All around me was the most amazing and beautiful garden I had ever seen.  How did this place exist without me knowing about it?  I walked along the stone-slab path.  A full minute passed before I realized that there were dozens of words hanging from the branches and flower pedals.  No, not a dozen…hundreds, thousands.  Then it all came into focus in the clear morning air.  Every plant in the garden was festooned with strings of words.  They were not on paper or tape.  They were words that formed sentences held together with some kind of invisible force.  I took one and read it:

So, wat r we doin tmrro nite??? 

I read more.  Each one was full of errors and misspoken sentiments.  Some were meaningless.  Some were pornographic.  Some were declarations of undying love.  And, some were rejections of love.  The messages of sadness and hate and anger hung like dead snakes.  They all hung like that, dead black and serpentine.

I’m not a genius by any means, but I knew that these were deleted messages.  This is where they went to spend eternity.

Everything in the garden was broken.  I could see broken engagements, hearts, marriages, affairs, souls, plans, dreams, nightmares and prayers.  Pleas to God for a healing.  But deleted when the loved one dies anyway.

All those deletes.

The little garden had morphed while my back was turned.  When I looked around, the trees and shrubs now stretched beyond the horizon.  The city had disappeared and I found myself standing in the midst of countless plants, like Dorothy’s field of poppies, that covered one rolling hill after another.  They all were festooned with deleted messages.  Uncountable in number, each message was something not sent to someone over the internet.  Most of them bore the sad, lonely and forlorn aura of a mistake made and then regretted.

But, wouldn’t a simple email correct the mistake?,  you may ask.  Well, I was proof that sometimes that does not happen so easily.  In days of old, if you put a letter into a mailbox and let it drop, it was a done deal and irretrievable.  If you then traveled to the home of the person you had sent the regretful mail, you may be confronted with an empty house.  Or, if you tried to dial-up someone to repair a wound you caused, you could be met with: “I’m sorry, that number is no longer in service”.

It all came down to the same problem.  How could one ever stop a bullet once the trigger was pulled?  How could one run to overtake an arrow that was shot, straight and true, before it struck the target?

I wanted her back and the best hope was here in the garden of deletes.  But, the task was impossible and I knew it.

Or was it?

I noticed a section of the garden where it seemed to be raining, raining new deletes. They fell onto the trees like black strips of strange snow.  If my deleted message were anywhere, wouldn’t it be where the incoming was coming in?

I walked over to that part of the garden.  I began reading the messages.  Some were paragraphs and some were chapters and some were even entire books.  I was looking for only a sentence.  But there was no way I could find it here.  I had to find another way to dress her wound.

I turned around to look for the exit.  I took a step.  There it was, hanging right before my eyes.  Without even thinking, I grabbed it and ran for the garden door.  The vast endless fields had shrunken to the little patch of flowers and trees that I had seen when I first entered.  I crumbled the message into a tight ball and threw it over the wall.  It was a mighty throw but the message made it out.  I squinted as I watched as it hit the top of the wall and bounced out.

I had successfully saved my deleted message from this garden of eternal regrets.

As I walked through the doorway, I found myself on my own street.  I lived nearby.  Putting my hands in my pockets, I walked in the direction of home.

I heard the squeal of rubber tires and the bump of a car as it hit the curb near me and came to an abrupt stop.  I turned.  There she was, clawing at the front door of her car.  She flung it open and ran straight into my arms.

“My email was slow today,” she said.  “I got your reply.  So you’ll give me another chance?  You will, won’t you?  I so love you.”

I put my arm over her shoulder and we walked back to my place, our place, as if nothing had happened.

 

 

 

Stourhead

Stourhead

The grounds of Stourhead in Wiltshire, England. This landscaped park includes a small village, a church, graveyard, numerous scrubs and trees of varied species and an Inn. At the far end of the lake is a “gothic” ruin, specially designed to looked many centuries old. You could sit among the ruins and contemplate the brevity of existence.