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Friday, 11 January 2008

The Grandfather of the Street

By Linda Davis of Grammology

It was the biggest ice storm in the history of our city, crushing tree limbs and the entire city in the aftermath of its fury. We all drove around in a mass funeral – silent, numb. Everywhere we turned, there was destruction. Trees that I practically knew by name were gone in one sweep of Mother Nature’s dismissive hand.

My son and I drove around town. We both knew where we would go – as if the car had a brain. We headed home. This was the only home he knew up to a few years ago when we moved; we had lived there for 18 years of his life.

Like Mecca, we headed back. To our history.

Our neighbor, Sam, was always there. On the roof. On a giant ladder pruning trees. Building a shed with his bare hands. At the age of 87.

He was the Grandfather of the entire street.

With a ready smile and an even readier joke, Sam was the rock. He brought over his homemade brew of raisins soaked in gin if you were sick. He brought you firewood in the midst of a storm. He cleared your garbage cans if he saw you didn’t make it home until after dark. He invited you in if your power was out. He brought you the Allentown poster every year because he knew your mother collected them.

We first met Sam during the days when you wouldn’t see him often. He took care of his wife most of the time. When his beloved Miriam died, we took him to the city where they lived most of their lives. Sam had a tree planted for her and I brought lily-of-the-valley from my garden. We planted them around Miriam’s tree. While he remembered stories of their life together, my heart ached that he still called her “my Miriam.”

As we approached our old street that day after the storm, we saw the tangled stumps. The Maple. This was the maple tree that filled our entire world every morning. In the fall, it filled our world with crimson light. In the winter, the snow-covered boughs stood in contrast to the warmth inside, protecting our nest. In the summer, squirrels scampered through it the way my curly-haired boy did when he was reaching for his tree fort.

Now she was dark. Her boughs were gone. Only black stumps remained. On the ground, all her limbs, twisted, broken. We passed silently, heading for Sam.

He was out in front of his house, as we knew he would be, clearing mounds of tangled branches, never making a dent. We pulled into the driveway the way we always did. We waved at him the way we always did. Miles bounded out of the car the way he always did, running forward the way he always had.

This time, Sam stopped, confused. I heard Miles say, “it’s me, Sam, Miles.” Sam looked at him. Puzzled.

As I rounded the car, I saw Miles look back at me - fear, sadness in his eyes. He looked again at Sam, this time pleading, “it’s me Sam – it’s me – Miles.” It took me a moment to understand. I put my hand on Miles’ shoulder, quietly saying, “he doesn’t recognize you, son.”

This must be what it is like. The first time. The first time you visit that person you love and grew up with and see that it just doesn’t register. That they don’t remember.

I approached Sam, prodding his memory. Remember us, Sam, we lived over there. Miles was little. You used to visit us. You came to our house Christmas Eve, You came to our wedding. You came to visit my mother every summer when she was over. Miles played with your grandson. You came to our house last year. We ate on the porch. Prodding. Waiting. For a small sign. For a glimmer.

Miles looked desperate. Helpless. Stunned.

I searched Sam’s face. Just a glimmer, Sam, please, just a glimmer. When he put his hand to his forehead, and said, “OOOOOH! Miles!!” I saw that familiar look in his eyes. We hugged, relieved. We were amazed, as usual, that now nearing 90, Sam was still out cleaning his yard, refusing to hire anyone to help. Now telling us about his grandson, his daughter, Sam was back. The world was as it always was.

As we pulled away. We felt sore. In our hearts. Because things weren’t really as they always were. They never would be again. The tree of my boy’s youth was now barren, no more limbs to hold a boy or the squirrels that will surely be confused come summer.

And Sam. Part of him was gone now.

We drove silently. Thinking about the next time. Whatever happens, we will always go back. Maybe the tree will have sprouted tiny new branches, maybe not. Maybe Sam will remember us, maybe not. But we will go back. It is our land, our history. Our Sam.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Thanks Linda it is a real tear jerker!

Visiting Sam and your old neighborhood was a bittersweet experience. Nothing stays the same and yet some things never change. Your story illustrated that paradox very well.

It is scary for me as I am forgetting things now that I should remember and it happens more frequently. I hope part of me isn't leaving but I fear it is.

What a beautiful memorial, yet he lives happily in today even tho much of him is gone. Lovely.

Tear jerker, indeed. I am welling up in spite of myself. That old man could have been my dad.

How touchingly sad, but poignant. You tell a good tale.

I loved your story, Linda. It was the story of many friends and neighbors I have known.

There are so many good people.Thanks for telling us about one of them.

Dear Linda,
Thanks for sharing this story. Life can be so disorienting, but your story reminded me that, even when it is in chaos, there are people who bring us back, who help us remember.


This was a lovely story and eye opening as to how quickly things can change with those you love. Live and share each moment as we never know when we won't have them...

Dorothy from grammology
Remember to call gram

I remember your stories about Sam. This is a poignant story, beautifully told.

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