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Copyright © 2010

Kurt Newton

The Wooden Grandpa


Not long after Grandpa moved in with us, he moved equally into the role as the family’s elder statesman. His was the voice of wisdom when the limits of our knowledge needed expanding. His was the voice of reason when the limits of our maturity were exposed. Grandpa particularly enjoyed his other role as grandfather to our two young children. He sat and read them stories. He provided them with an attentive eye. “Watch this, Grandpa!” “Grandpa, look!” His expressions of wonder were animated, his laughter deep and full, and his words of encouragement were always thoughtful and heartfelt. He wore the face of retirement well. And though he never spoke much about Grandma, we knew he missed her dearly. This was evident on his more restless days, when he would wander the first floor of our home, stopping now and then to stare out a window, or to pick a knick-knack up off a shelf to examine where it was made.

Grandpa hardly ever watched television. His favorite past time was to sit and read in an old winged-back chair my wife had bought at a tag sale. His was the last face we saw when we left for work each morning and the kids left for school. His voice was the last goodnight we heard when we climbed the stairs to bed. He was as quiet as the clock on the wall, and just as predictable.

Until the day we found him standing in the middle of the living room rooted to the floor.

There was no other way describe it. Grandpa had simply solidified or petrified right in the middle of our living room, his large pale feet sunk through his slippers, merged with the hardwood beneath.

It didn’t appear painful. In fact, on the grain of his features he wore a warm, almost pleasant expression, as if his last thought had been a nostalgic one. His arms were held out as if to welcome visitors into our home.

The children, of course, were mortified. But after explaining to them the nature of time and aging and how life is not always what one expects it to be, they were not so afraid and quickly adapted to Grandpa’s odd yet solid presence.

Our youngest continued to carry on long conversations with him while conducting tea parties at his feet. There were days we found her favorite dolly cradled in one of his large open hands.

Our oldest skirted past his body without so much as a “Hello” or “Goodbye.” At first, we were concerned about our son’s behavior, until we spied him occasionally stopping to tug on Grandpa’s shirtsleeve, or to rest his cheek against one of Grandpa’s long wooden legs.

On holidays my wife took it upon herself to decorate Grandpa accordingly, trading his grey flannel shirt for a more festive one. Pastel colors for Easter. Red, white, and blue for the Fourth of July. Shades of autumn for Thanksgiving. Evergreen for Christmas. An assortment of hats were also used to celebrate the time of year.

At least once a week I pulled up a chair and sat beside Grandpa and read aloud from one of his favorite books.

As the months and years passed, Grandpa became a part of our daily lives as much as he had been before he had turned to wood. His was the last face we saw when we left for work each morning and the kids left for school. His presence was the last we felt before we climbed the stairs to bed each night. He was as quiet as the clock on the wall, and just as dependable.

When the children grew up and moved away, each took a piece of Grandpa with them. Our oldest took the legs and used them one on each side of the fireplace mantle he built for his new home. Our youngest took the torso and used it as a base for her dinner table. My wife arranged Grandpa’s arms and coat, which we had kept in the closet, and mounted them on the wall of our living room. I took Grandpa’s head and, in a private ceremony, buried it with Grandma.

It seemed like the proper thing to do.