A Bookshelf of Hope

 

              My grandpa had an infatuation with sports cars, so when my dad brought home a 1998 white Camaro for my sister’s 16th birthday, my first inclination was to go show Grandpa.
  

 Dad, Grandpa Bob would love to see this car. You know how excited he gets about them.  Whenever I went somewhere with Grandpa Bob, he always gleefully pointed and exclaimed over the cars he liked.  However, it was late, so my dad said we should stop by my grandparents’ tomorrow instead.
  

The next morning, the sweltering July sun seeped through my blinds and into my room, but I decided to roll over and continue to sleep.  Approximately five minutes later the telephone’s ringing abruptly ended my slumber.  I stumbled to the living room, picked up the receiver and tiredly mumbled, Hello?     

Is your father there? A voice, which was masked by sobbing, inquired. As I raced to my parents’ bedroom door and pounded, I realized the severity of the call, and my heart fell.
    Dad! Dad! You need to get on the phone! I paused,  Something is wrong. As soon as my dad picked up his extension, I hung up the phone in the living room, walked into my older sister’s room and collapsed against the door. I now realized who the person on the phone had been, and my heart sank to greater depths.  It was my grandma from Bryan, and I knew why she had called.
    

Abigail, I started but then paused and looked down.
     What?  She questioned in a tone of obvious annoyance. I attempted to look her in the eyes but couldn’t, so I looked down feeling defeated and continued.
    Abigail, I just answered the phone, and it was Grandma Nancy. She sounded upset, and I just hope and pray that Grandpa is okay. We sat in awkward silence as I prayed that God would remain by Grandma’s side no matter what had already occurred.  The quiet was interrupted by my mother’s light knocking on the door.
  

 Girls, are you both in there? My mother asked.  I slothfully stood up and opened the door.  Mom just stood in the doorway with pursed lips, as though words were desperately attempting to escape her mouth, but she would not let them out.  I do not know why, but I felt compelled to ask her to confirm my fears because I could not stand to look at those pursed lips of silence any longer.  
  

Mom, it’s my grandpa, isn’t it? Please just tell us what is going on. 
    Girls, your grandpa is gone,  she stated plainly.
  

As I took a shower that morning, a multitude of thoughts and unanswered questions flew in and out of my mind.  As a fourteen-year-old, the idea of a man, whom I had spent a great deal of time with, being gone was incomprehensible.  I loved him, but now he was gone.  GONE.  How could I love someone who was gone? It sounded like a stupid question to be asking myself, but the answer escaped me.  My thoughts wandered to his smile.  He had a great smile.  Grandpa had faced illness in numerous areas, yet he always smiled.
    

As my dad, my sister and I drove to my grandma’s house located in Bryan, I did not know what to expect.  I looked away from the car’s window and to my sister Abigail.  Her eyes were crimson and her cheeks stained by the paths of falling tears.  I didn’t think Abigail wanted me to know she had cried. I completely understood because I felt like I needed to be strong for everyone else and restrain myself from crying also.
  

When we arrived at Grandma Nancy’s, I peered through the window and saw my grandma, Mrs. Evans, Uncle Bruce and Ms. Stewart seated around the dining room table.  (Mrs. Evans and Ms. Stewart are both friends of my grandmother’s from church.)  Uncle Bruce opened the door, and my grandma soon greeted my sister and me.  I wrapped my arms tightly around Grandma, and told her only what I thought was most vital.
     I love you, and Grandpa loved you.  The other words that came to me seemed frivolous.
  

 I walked into Grandma’s recently remodeled kitchen, and the severity of what had happened hit me like a blow to the stomach.  Grandpa’s oatmeal bowl was on the stove next to his special spoon that had been set out, as usual, for his breakfast.  A fresh package of his favorite dessert, cinnamon pastries, which he called crispies, were laying on the pale-blue kitchen counter top.  There were the remnants of Archway molasses cookies scattered around his mouse cookie jar.  

Recent memories of him flooded my thoughts.  One of them was when Grandma would go to the store and buy crispies; Grandpa would quickly shuffle his bare feet into the kitchen, rub his hands together in glee, and exclaim, Oh goody! I also had memories of sitting at the kitchen table eating dinner, and Grandma constantly telling my grandpa to do something.

Robert, you need to make more of an effort when you shave. It doesn’t even look like you have shaved at all, My grandma would exclaim. Although Grandma seemed to always be telling Grandpa what to do, it was usually in a loving manner.  He would simply smile and reply, Your command is my wish, Dear! (Rather than the more common phrase, Your wish is my command.)  The answer was usually followed with Grandpa chuckling at his own cleverness.  I loved how Grandpa laughed the hardest at his own jokes.

Anna-Lisa, can you please come here, my grandma questioned interrupting my thoughts.
Yes, Ma’am, I replied and then walked into the dining room where she was seated.

Grandpa wanted all of his books donated to the A&M library, so if you would like to have any, you can go look through them now. I walked slowly and uncertainly to the back of the house where his room was located.  I peered inside and realized what a challenge this was going to be.  I seated myself on the ground next to his vast floor-to-ceiling collection of books.  There were thousands, and, amazingly, the majority of the books he had acquired after a stroke. That was difficult for me to fathom.  I came across a pale blue folder, and after I looked inside, I came to conclusion it was Grandpa’s handwriting.  The worn folder was overflowing with papers pertaining to his recovery more than ten years ago.  As I read about the challenges he faced, I recalled a conversation that had occurred nearly two years earlier between my grandfather and me. He had described in detail various aspects of what his recovery entailed.  One sentence in particular remained etched in my mind.

I had to relearn everything after my stroke. At first, I couldn’t even use utensils on my own. I tried to remember what learning to use utensils was like as a child, but I was unable. I thought of the frustration that would coincide with being unable to consume food on your own as an adult.  How would I have handled that situation? I’m unsure.  Facing such dependence would have been more difficult on Grandpa than most because of his independence. He was a brilliant minded man, a nuclear engineer to be specific. He had been stripped of his gift from God: the ability to think.  He used one of the only things that remained with him, his inner strength, to face the challenge that lay before him. And his smile…He smiled through it all.  

I then recalled the horrendous tales Grandma had told me concerning the way individuals treated Grandpa following his stroke.  

I can only think of a few students who treated him with the same respect and friendship as before.  The majority of the professors in the science department simply ignored him. It ached my heart to realize what pain that must have caused, but I also prided his attitude.  Because of the stroke, he could no longer teach the challenging science and math courses he once taught; however, he did not allow himself to be hindered intellectually by the negativity of others.  Grandpa did the unthinkable; he attended classes at A&M to further enhance his mind in areas new to him, such as history.  I loved the way he handled that situation. It was as if he was telling the professors, So what if I am unable to teach at the university anymore, I’m going to continue my education. At that instant, I was moved by the amount of courage it took on his part to focus on what lay ahead, not on the others who intended to prevent him from progressing.  I am almost certain Grandpa was aware of the others who may have been wondering, What in the world does he think he is doing?

I returned the folder back to its spot on the shelf, and removed a maroon Bible.  The pages were heavily marked and worn following years of use.  Grandpa regularly attended church, and a myriad of times his selflessness was revealed to me.  For example, every Christmas, even though he was unable to drive and my grandma didn’t expect him to find a way to get her a Christmas gift, he always managed.  The act may sound trivial, but the effort it required was great.

As I sat in my grandpa’s cluttered room that July afternoon, I discovered how far perseverance, selflessness and a smile can take you.