My grandfather did a lot of my raising and my son was born a hundred years after him, nearly to the day, give or take a couple weeks. On a timeline that long, a couple weeks isn’t more than a cup of morning coffee.
I stand in between them, a bit closer to my boy’s edge, but not all that far from 1910 when you take margin of error into account. I bring the two together. I bridge a hundred years and I wonder what Grampie would say to that. He’d probably push his fishing hat down over his glasses and grumble, which would mean he’s proud. Damn proud to be a character in the story.
He wasn’t a particularly expressive man, often given to curses and grunts and he was one stubborn son of a bitch if I’ve ever tried to love one. I guess similars attract. When one won’t budge an inch in love, the other’s got to lay siege to that mule and wait it out. Sometimes it looks like nobody wins when all you do is butt unrelenting heads, but there’s no such measure as win or lose when it comes to family. That’s how it was and how it is and I’m not sure that’ll change in any generation. Doesn’t have to.
He’s dead 25 years now and the memories I’ve got are an adolescent’s memories, not as considered or reliable as those I’m making of my own son now, nor those I’ll add to the jar in years to come. I wish I’d written some of it down though. Now I’m left with a few snapshots. One at a barbecue. One at a wedding. One of him looking stern in a little boy’s camera, caught right between God and damn … thing down and get over here and help me. It’s a stubborn love.
I wish I could hear his accent again, now that I’ve got an ear for such things. Northeast American, turn of the century. “Drawer” truncated to “draw.” “Naturally” lost a few letters on the way out as “natchly.” I don’t remember much else specifically but there were others for certain and now they’ve dissipated, vanished. Even if they were catalogued somewhere, a dusty archive of grandfathers and curses and affection, I’d be the only one listening. Anyone else who’d care is either dead or lost interest. A couple more generations and it’ll all be gone, as his grandfather is to me. And that’s when the dead finally rest.
25 years. I’ve got good friends born after I saw him last. When I picture that on a timeline, it makes no sense. No sense at all that such a thing as a generation can even exist. If anything, generations only have purchase in the abstract and only as collectives. There are no individual instantiations, yet that’s what we all are, averaged out and named the same, lost in convenient taxonomies that let you talk about the whole world without knowing a soul. But he and I and my boy, a hundred years between us, we’re no different from one another no matter what studies show. As I see it, there is no kid these days any more than there is an average man. Hardly any data points fall on the best-fit-curve.
I’ve grown suspicious of chopped up timelines. There’s no logic in the chopping. Too often we divide up our world and our reality for one purpose, then imagine all purposes are suited to the categories and dissections. But the world at large ain’t like that. Doesn’t bend to our whims or to the way we talk. And we’re smart to keep a humble tongue in our heads when speaking of history and existence in any sorts of lofty terms. If there’s anything to be learned from kids these days, it’s that we ought weigh our world in modest units. What is wide-eyed wonder but enlightened humility?
I wrote A Thousand Words and learned some things about myself I didn’t expect. It’s been strange days ever since. I guess that’s what happens when you tussle with an unknown adversary, ignorant of its short temper and tendency for violence, and unafraid that it might draw first and leave an unpluggable hole with your life streaming out. I surely wasn’t quick enough to dodge its strike.
Turns out I’ve always been just hoping for the best, more than any higher aspirations, and now I have an inkling why. Regret or disappointment or righteous rage, I’m not sure. I see it for what it is, but I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve got no word to tag it, track it, tell it in a way that might make sense to anyone outside my head. At its heart it’s a feeling of being beaten in a fight you didn’t know you were in. A profound frustration. We haven’t a word for that, as far as I know. I figure we should.
Let’s say I’m frustruggling. I suspect I’m not the only one who has awoken in the midst of a frustrated struggle like mine, and surely I’m not the only one who feels as though he’s lost. Of course, who is to judge whether it’s a tick in the win column or the not when it’s a set of circumstances that doesn’t even have its own word beyond my silly mash. Since the beginning there’s been this. Naming it doesn’t give it any more power or take any away. Just picks it out from the muddle.
I’ve got a real knack for chasing unrealizable dreams. Follow me around and do what I don’t and I reckon you’ll die a happy man. Not that I’m not happy. Happy I surely am. I mean look at this place. But I’m in the midst of a pitched frustruggle and I don’t know the rules and I’d probably reject them even if I did. That’s my nature. Plus, if I reject it, I’m not playing and I can’t lose, and that’s just as good a guarantee as I figure I’ll ever get.
I don’t mean to be a downer. Just a shot of honesty. And in personal honesty we often catch glimpses of universal truths. Know Thyself say the philosophers, then proclaim unrufflable verities of existence. I’ve got a more modest purpose. In a hundred years, my little boy’s little boy will know my accent. He will know that “drawer” ends with a hard R and “naturally” has nine letters and I never did anything so well as love my son, stubborn as a mule.
And that’s all I want.