Free Personal Narratives: Grandfather, Missing in Action

Free Personal Narratives: Grandfather, Missing in Action

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Grandfather – Missing in Action

We whiled away lazy afternoons down in his cool basement, working on an intricate model train system. I would blow the horn and link the cars into long snaking trains of autumn colors—burnt red, mustard yellow, and pumpkin orange. He would pull them apart again, telling me in gentle admonition that I had to stop doing that because they would all get stuck in the tunnel or that they couldn’t all handle the sharp turns. My clumsy little hands would knock over the houses, the miniature people and the toothpick-sized telephone poles. I was King Kong wreaking havoc on Pleasantville, but I knew Grampy was more amused than annoyed. I never tired of blowing the whistle and calling “All aboard!” We would be down there for hours, until Grammy called us up for dinner.

Grampy painted radiant backdrops for the little town—mountains frosted with snow, sunsets laced with gold. He had made the tunnel out of papier-mâché, of which no trace remained. It was covered with grass, tiny trees, bushes, and even a well. I secretly wished into this well every time I visited. Its opening was smaller than a penny, though. Those hours spent in the basement were filled with the wide-eyed wonder of a little girl and her eighty-year-old best friend.

There were other miracles in that basement: a whole wall of empty fish-tanks, uneaten fish food, and pebbles strewn haphazardly on rickety shelves. From the ceiling in the corner were suspended model airplanes Grampy had built—more my brothers’ fantasy than mine. I nevertheless did air-traffic-control voices as I streaked around the basement with my arms extended like graceful wings. The streamlined fighter planes flew over the workbench, which was sanded smooth and bare from years of use. Silent saws and mounds of fine sawdust kept the workbench company when Grampy wasn’t making clocks, dollhouses, or tackle boxes for his “fishing buddies.”

Next to the workbench was a towering wooden bookshelf, the bearer of many small fascinations to me. Everything was separated into old wooden cream cheese boxes, pictures of faded flowers on the front under the label “Daisy Cream Cheese.” There were wing nuts, bolts, old screws, and brads, all in their own little cartons; to me, they were better than penny candy.

Against the far wall was an old desk, its drawers overflowing and cigar boxes stacked all over it. The cigar boxes were full of gems, rough and uncut.

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Grampy made jewelry. His patience never wavered as he bent low over a magnifying glass, his thick glasses askew, his nimble fingers never rushing the chisel over the gritty rocks. Gleaming little jewels would emerge from these rocks, as if to reward my grandfather for his patience.

He made me three pairs of earrings—innocent amethysts, Mexican turquoise, and delicate pearls encircling a single ruby. I keep them in a white medicine box, the words “Lassen Family: Natural Foods and Vitamins” printed in bold red letters on top. I didn’t wear them much when I was young, but I took them out nearly every day. I would hold them up to the window and twist them this way and that until they caught the light and cast a kaleidoscope of color over my rumpled yellow sheets. I thought that they hid rainbows that only I had the power to unleash.

I haven’t been down to the basement in almost four years. Neither has Grammy, except to grab a bottle of flat Pepsi from the top step. It is so flat and the label is so faded; it has been sitting there forever, I think. We always drink flat Pepsi with Grammy’s traditional roast beef dinners. The sunlight never even makes it all the way downstairs, the single shaft suffocated as Grammy opens and promptly closes the door on my basement world. The model train table is covered with a plastic tarp, the dust settled over Pleasantville like a sandstorm such a utopia never deserved.

Unfinished clocks sit helplessly on the workbench—forever frozen at four, seven, or two o’clock. The fish-food is uneaten, the tanks empty and dry. The fighter-planes haven’t saved the day lately, haven’t faithfully followed the commands of their captains. They hang, suspended in an eternal dusk—lights off, doors shut-- their pilots having long since given up on their missions, their lost comrades having long since been declared Missing in Action.
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