his mother died the day before her one hundred and tenth birthday. they were both born in ireland and immigrated to the united states when he was young. he is now ninety-six years old, his eye having almost completely failed him, spending his days nearly blind in a rest home in upstate new york.
my grandmother recently returned home to alabama from visiting her father, my great-grandfather, of ninety-six years. slow, slow, slow. she says his hair is long, uncut and his body is almost as frail and brittle as his hair. it seems insane to me that this relative spends his days in a retirement home on the other side of the country with what seems like very little contact from his family, though his other daughter and son live in new jersey and new york respectively. i cannot fathom what this man understands after the accumulation of that time. what exactly can he remember and how exactly has the pile of time in which he is buried affects those memories.
he couldn't serve in the second world world due to a malformation in his thumb. he was a truck driver for much of his life. he lived with his wife, consetta, born in italy, in a same town on the eerie canal in upstate new york until she lost her memory and died a few years ago. the small town looked like the set of a disney movie: everyone knew one another, all of them irish-italians who painted their houses coral and seafoam colors. there were two graveyards across the street from each other, one catholic, the other protestant. there was one main street along the canal.
his health remained stable for a year, then rapidly deteriorated.
when his wife began loosing her memory, i remember visiting her. at some point during the trip, she turned to me and asked, "who are you again?" though i had known her all my life. i responded that i was her granddaughter melody's son. she didn't seem to recall, but accepted my answer.
so what is there to know now? i want to be there with him. i want to talk to him. it's strange how these american families spiral outward, detach, regroup, disassociate. will i find myself at ninety wondering the same questions about myself that i wonder about him? only if i'm lucky.