My grandfather would go about his day on those weekend afternoons in late summer, early fall. You were at his house, but the understanding was he wouldn’t always be alongside. He’d get lost as others accounted for the shuffle, as it were, the hullabaloo and the hue of sun-in-September happiness, but my eyes stayed on him, and I went where he went. We were mini-traveling partners that way. We favored an old garden with a border of large stones lugged from the forest beyond. The lawn was on the east side of what was tantamount to a grove, nearest the house, and I’d pick a rock to sit on.
“There’s snakes,” my grandfather said once, as he first did what he was going to do with his lawn, before he sat with me.
“I know,” I shouted back, while he raked. “They’re only garters.”
My grandfather laughed. He liked that I knew that, and he’d resume raking his acorns. You’d see them fly above the tops of the blades of grass, unsure what they were if you didn’t already know. Particles in a cloud chamber. He raked the acorns into three or four piles that were three or four inches high, then tipped a beach pale on its side and guided each stack to the tilted bottom.
He’d walk to the woods, toss all of the acorns into them, as if there’d been water in his bucket and he was embroiled in bailing, but out came woody mast instead, there being no sail-fringed mast casting a shadow high above, looming with the energy of potential movement, though I thought of the trees that had made the acorns that way.
“Let them grow there,” he’d say, and I liked that, too. Next he cut the lawn with a battle-tested mower whose engine came out of a post-War Indian motorcycle, and everything looked so clean but also earthy, like you wanted to stick a spade in it and see if the soil below the outer level was wet, held that internal earth water that seems to be the stuff of shady patches and former river beds.
My grandfather’s lawn was the lone place I ever sat in my life and thought it was amazing that I was on the actual surface of a planet, the very top, as much a part of that surface as anywhere else, and if you saw the planet from space, you had as good a chance as seeing this same actual spot as any other. You just wouldn’t have seen me, but I could have been there.
I told him that as we sat on the garden rocks after he was finished. He’d have a cold beer, and he gave me some.
“Don’t tell anyone,” he said.
“Because I’m a girl?” I asked.
“No. Because it’s beer. Silly.”
He knew I knew, which is how we joked and why we were close. I knew my grandfather’s wife died sometime in the mid-1960s, because my mom talked about how neat it was to her that her own mother was briefly a Beatles fan, took her to the first movie they made, loved it even more than she did, and my mom was always quick to point out that she loved them a grand amount. She didn’t use that unit of measurement often. She said it about me a lot, and about my father some, my sense being that she said it with greater frequency to him, about him, before I came along, not on account that I diminished his portion, but that was just how things were.
After she was gone, there was my mom and her brother Teddy. Everyone said the same thing about him—“He could have been a politician.” My understanding was this was a high compliment, but one that also made him sound like a willing liar. “He’d charm the pants off you,” old aunts said, and I’d think, “Wait, what if one wishes to retain their pants?”
He drank after my mother’s mother died, sneaking back into the house past curfew—my grandfather went to bed early in those years, my mom said—via a tree branch that extended close enough to his window, and one night he fell out of it and broke his spine on the ground. My mom heard the fall, looked out in her bedroom to see him writhe. She hadn’t thought he’d descended from any great height, but she got my grandfather, who told her to stay back, to wait, then watched from the window as he sat in the dark with the uncle I never met, holding his hand, rubbing his neck—not his back—as he died. And then the two of them, my grandfather and my mother, carried on after that.