Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength. ~ Betty Friedan
I’ve realized something recently, I’m becoming my grandfather, my paternal grandfather to be specific. It really hit me looking in the mirror wearing a mask the other day at work. It was mostly about the fact that I really can notice, now that I shave my head, the elongation of my ears over the last decade. It’s one of those disturbing facts that I know for absolutely no reason, the fact that your ears and nose continue to grow throughout your life. This was something that was always quite obvious with Grandpa Kane. We don’t really look alike, he, as you can see from the image above, looked prototypically Irish. I’ll never forget watching the first scene of Angela’s Ashes and realizing ever old Irish person in the scene looked a whole lot like my grandpa.
In addition to my ears, and even more so, I find myself adapting my grandfather’s attitude. He laughed a lot, and he wasn’t usually laughing with you. People in general both amused and annoyed him, I’m so identifying with that emotion at this point in my life. He wasn’t one of those get off my lawn kind of old men, he was much more intense.
The story I told about him at his funeral was about his garden. He loved to garden and it’s a love that he helped inspire in me as well. He always grew tomatoes and roses and one summer a man from the neighborhood with some developmental issues went in the yard and stomped the garden flat. My grandfather was a hard man, he earned it. You see he’d been drafted into the army for World War II at 33 years-old with four small children at home. He ended up as a Ranger and his first action was on the first wave on D-day, a couple of weeks later he was hit by shrapnel from a grenade and captured by the Germans. He spent a year as a prisoner of war, he escaped, was recaptured, spent a night in a death camp, the story of that night was the only time I ever saw him cry.
So he was a hard guy, a man who worked as a steam pipe fitter in New York City. He was also not shy about throwing his hands, he grew up in a different time. He was a young man during the Great Depression. So, at 87 years-old, weeks after the garden incident he saw the man with his father and he unloaded verbally from the top step of his stoop. The man’s father made the mistake of looking at my grandfather and saying, what are you going to anyway old man. The answer was a full body flying right cross off the stoop. The man, in his 50’s, was almost certainly just trying to control my grandfather but in the ensuing scuffle my grandfather fell, hit his head and ended up in the hospital.
I happened to come home from grad school that night and there were too many people in the house. I asked what’s up, they said Grandpa and I asked if he was dead. The answer, no he got in a fight and is in the hospital, made me smile. When I finally saw him the next day, I asked him what the hell he was thinking. He looked at me and he said, so seriously, “I hit him up under the gut with everything I had, and he didn’t go down. I might be getting old.” Quite honestly I believe that was the first time he ever considered himself old, I smiled and hoped that I could hold off on that thought until I was his age, so far, so good.
So that thought hitting me, that I’m turning into my grandfather was bittersweet. It was a reminder that in fact I’m old enough to be a grandfather, many of my friends are grandparents. It was a reminder that there are far fewer days ahead than behind for me. It was a reminder of how much I miss that old bastard our walks and our magnificent conversations. But remembering him is always sweet and the thought that I’m becoming him does make me happy. If I can be that alive, that feisty, that amused by life and that willing to throw a punch into my eighties, I’ll consider my life a success.
So here’s to many more days my friends and hopefully turning into a fiery old Irishman. ~ Rev Kane