Monday, May 14, 2007

Hello and Goodbye

The trip felt that quick. No sooner were we saying hello to Chicago than were we saying goodbye to the city. It was a wonderful trip-- it was a hello, it was a homecoming, it was a goodbye.

We flew into Chicago and then drove to Davenport, Iowa, were Travis' grandfather, Robert Brown, lives. In between and around visiting with him, we returned to Travis' mother's childhood city-- Cedar Rapids, Iowa. We stayed with her brother's family--the Browns, who were lovely hosts and fun company, full of laughter and friendliness.

We primarily went to visit Travis' grandfather, who is ill; but he was still very lucid and sharp, just weakened by his emphysema and his compromised heart. We spent some time with him, talking and he told us stories-- how he met five presidents, his job as a reporter, magic shows, mind-reading tricks, his favorite books, and his life mottoes. He also escorted us down to a street fair on the street parallel to the Mississippi Rive. There we ate the best kettle corn, straight hot out of the kettle, hearing stories of the magic shop he owned on Pershing Street.

He reminded me of my own grandfathers. One died when I was ten. The other's death is a distant memory from my early childhood-- I was only two when he passed away. Certainly, as I was older, the second death left an indelible mark on my life.
I have shreds of memories from Tom Jansen's life-- his knee-bouncing game, his cigarette lighter, his paper and press, gardening. Now, I have a few photos and a few pieces of his life--two pictures from his travels to the Polynesian Islands during his time in the Dutch Merchant Marines, a copper scale, and a wooden card file box. I have heard a few stories, but he was a quiet and gentle man, living far from his home country with a thick Dutch accent but surrounded by those who loved him.
The other grandfather was closer; but just as much of an unknown. He was a smart man, a passionate pianist, a world traveler, an international economist. He bought me dolls from around the world and he took me to the Kennedy Center as a little girl two seasons in a row to a children's program. I have more memories, but just a few before he got sick-- like the time he kept telling me "F sharp" as I fumbled through a piano piece. He always had a funny sharp small about him and bristly speckled gray hair-- enough to go around too for it was always poking funnily out of his ears and nose too.
I never had the opportunity with either of them to know them as an adult. My childhood sensibilities were young and impressionable. An adult grandchild probably sees more. We know more about the world and how a grandfather could too. I just know that I wished I still had one living, no matter their state.
As Janis said, there is a "deposit" left in all of us from those we meet. I know I will take our trip to Iowa and put it in safekeeping for a long time, in hopes of returning to it's beautiful simplicity. This is the deposit Bob Brown leaves with me-- the lessons of simplicity. He grew up very poor and shared with us how he, to his regret, got it wrong for a long time about things being more important than people. In that little room in downtown Davenport, he reminded us to get it right: to love others and to give your life away. I will try, Grandpa Brown.

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