You left us two years ago. You would have been 103 this year. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about you, or something that is a representation of you.
My memoir of you is not one of a kind old grand-pop that doted on his family. No, instead, when you died, the nurses in your care home commented that you had been such a sweet, old man. My mom and I had looked at each other skeptically, and then checked the paperwork to make sure we were talking about the same man.
Because of you….I learned to deal with difficult people, and maybe even a little alarmingly, created the false impression that difficult men can be won over by sheer love and affection simply because, in spite of the fact that you were a workaholic, game cheater, violent alcoholic, bully, and an irregular person with an acerbic personality to the rest of our family and the rest of the world, I was your sweetheart. I was the one who, even when you hated the words that were spoken to you, and the decisions that were made for you….when I was the one that shared them with you, you grudgingly agreed, and treated me with respect and admiration; and maybe even love, impressed that I didn’t let your bull**** intimidate me or push me away.
You truly were a self made man, and your extreme value of education fueled not only my love for, but also my expectation for myself, of being a lifelong learner. It’s why, even now, I have dedicated the next four years of my life to get my doctorate; because one day, in a drunken hush of yours, you told me that I would never max out my potential until I had a PhD after my name, that you would be proud of me if I accomplished that goal. Because you knew the value of hard work, having worked your way up from mailroom boy at Wells Fargo, to VP of Western Operations.
Your love for travel and for the Sierra’s, particularly the Stanislaus National forest, has become a key backbone of who I am. Whether we were playing our weekly Scrabble game, or you were treating me to Chinese food, the times we went “deer hunting” to count the number of deer we saw on some God-forsaken wilderness logging road, or me calling some investment company for you and being surprised that the receptionist greeted me with, “welcome to the million dollar club, how can I help you?” ( a millionaire? You dressed like a longshoreman), seeing that no matter how dysfunctional you were in some ways, you were still an accomplished man ( the gift of money and math you did NOT pass on to me) and as someone who only ever “paid in full with cash”, who you were, and who I was TO YOU more importantly, played a crucial role in me becoming the person I am today.
Sometimes, I have learned, that you become who you are meant to be not just from those around you who LIVE righteous, holy lives, but you grow by parts of you being forged by rubbing up against those who chisel and grind us rather than hold and bind us.
Our family has always joked that you reminded us of a blue jay, cocky, always squawking, a bit arrogant, lover of pine trees…. and with your hair, when uncombed, cocked upright in a blue jay’s fashion. Ironic, since you loved birds, always had Audobon books laying around, and knew the scientific name of every bird between here and the equator. Of all the birds that could have been chosen, you seemed to embody the somewhat annoying character of the Stellar blue jay.
The symbolism of the blue jay represents
All of these reflect you perfectly.
….It was last summer, as I sat on the porch of mom and dad’s house, the cabin that used to be yours, that a certain blue jay seemed to be talking to me. Whenever I went outside, it would come and sit on the porch railing, yakking and yakking. When I went out to the front of the cabin, it would follow me, like it was trying to give me a message.
On three different occasions, over the course of three months, this jay would come to me. The third time around, something became aroused in my spirit, a sense of familiarity…. of home, an odd scent of vanilla tobacco and Irish Spring soap; the comforting texture of frayed flannel; the vibrant blue of feathers, ironic being that since you were colorblind, the only color you COULD see was blue; and the taste of Chinese food and Baskin Robbins, all places I remember you taking me as a young child.
And then, out of nowhere, I knew it was YOUR spirit. It was you. You were there with me. In that fleeting moment. It was like I could reach out and touch you. In that one second, a lifetime of memories filled my psyche, making time stand still. And while I’ve never been a believer in those we love coming back to love us, between worlds, I know that day that I was in the presence of something far more embracing than a snarky neighborhood jay.
For whatever reason, I’m glad that you came to me that summer. I’m glad I had one last chance to sense your presence. For in the more time that has passed since you left us, every day the more deeply your legacy imprints me.
So this tattoo is for you. A blue jay feather. On my wrist. So that no matter where I go, I am reminded that just maybe, you see me.
This song will always remind me of you, Carrie Underwood, “See You Again”.