Years ago I had a series of images in my head. They were vivid memories where I could place many of the people in them but I was unsure of what I was remembering or where it was. All but one dealt with cold, like it was winter. I remember my Grandparents, my dad, and a cousin. Below are the pieces I remembered.
One image was walking across a parking lot on a cold brisk night to a large towering building. I know am very small because both of my arms were over my head as the people with me were holding onto my hands. One of them tells me to look up and I can see someone waving down to me. It is a man sitting in a window. The light is steaming out of the room about 4 stories up so all I can see is the silhouette.
Next is a memory of my cousin and me in a busy lobby. We are sitting on green waiting room type chairs and there is an antiseptic smell to the air. Everything is bright, shiny, and sterile. She and I are looking at a monitor where we are talking to my grandfather through the telephone. I can see him waving at me and I think it is magic. Grandpa is on TV! She is sitting with me wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and her long hair is pulled back in a bandana. She smells like leather and horses, so she must have just come from the farm.
Then I remember everyone being sad. I don’t understand why everyone is sad. We are in a place with thick cushions and long row benches. I remember being picked up and taken to large box at the end of the room by my dad.
Finally I remember sitting on a grassy hill with my grandmother and we were surrounded by rocks. I have a toy phone in my hands and I am spinning the wheel pretending to call someone. Over and over I ask her to call someone, but I couldn’t remember who. She is speaking to me but I don’t understand what she is trying to tell me. All I know is that it worked before and I get very upset that she won’t help me make the phone call.
|Paul Combs about 25 years old|
As adults, I am sure you can piece together that these were memories of the end of a life. For years I had them in my head, but I couldn’t figure out what I was seeing. Finally, one day my dad told me the story of how I insisted that grandma was keeping grandpa away from me and that she had to call him. The pieces literally tumbled into place, and after a few more questions I had the answers to what I was locked in my head all those years.
My grandfather died the November after I turned two years old. He went into the hospital to fix a decade’s old hip injury by having the joint replaced. The surgery went perfectly and he was up and healing great. Then he fell in the bathroom of his hospital room. Grandpa died several days later when a blood clot broke loose and went to his lung. The memories I had were those of the last few days of his life, his funeral, and afterwards.
After talking with my dad everything came into focus. It was my parents taking me to visit him on a cold November evening. My cousin babysat me in the hospital waiting room since I was too young to go upstairs. Then there was the funeral and finally my grandmother taking me to his grave to explain to me that she couldn’t call grandpa. It all made sense and as we talked my memory grew to where I could remember more details. It was cathartic in a sense as well. I cried and cried. Emotions welled up inside of me. Emotions that I didn’t know I had and I began to feel like there was something bottled up inside of me that was finally released.
Now when I think back on those memories I have more. I can feel the slight wind on my face from the brisk fall air walking through the parking lot. The sound of cars on the distant street and my parents murmuring something over my head. Then there was the rush of happiness when I saw papaw sitting in the window waving down at me.
My cousin playing with me and doing her best to keep me entertained in the lobby of the busy hospital. The feel of the hard plastic phone on my ear and papaws tin like voice coming though it to me. Talking to me. Telling me everything was going to be fine and how we would go running around the house when he got home.
Thankfully I don’t remember the next part, when my small little world tumbled. It started with a phone call several days later that had my grandmother rushing out of the house in a panic, and my father knowing in his heart his dad was gone. We were at the house by ourselves so when he got the call to come to the hospital, not telling him why, I had to go with him. When we arrived he found the room empty and the nurse told him that grandpa had been moved. The silly woman took him and me to where the body was. Dad told me I asked where did papaw go because that did not look like him.
The funeral was held at the same funeral home all of our family has been shown at, the room my grandmother would have her wake in 20 years later. I could now remember without being prompted the dark colored velvet dress I wore with the patent leather shoes and white stockings. My dad was the one who picked me up and took me to the casket. He wanted me to be able to say goodbye to my buddy. Dad told me how he tried to explain that grandpa was asleep now and he couldn’t come home. I remembered whispering to him, “wake up, please.”
That next spring my grandmother took me to the cemetery. I was still asking for papaw bringing my toy phone to her and asking her to call him like when he was in the hospital. She showed me the grave and we sat in the grass. Grandma cried and sobbed, and I couldn’t make her stop. I promised never to ask her again. It was not until I was in college that I asked her about grandpa. I never realized why I didn’t ask questions about him, only letting her volunteer information, but if I had to guess my promise as a two year old was etched into my memory. I never wanted to have her cry that like again.
It is amazing to me that someone I only knew for 2 short years could have me sobbing still today.