This is a little piece I wrote for a literary journalism class I’m taking right now. It was an assignment on creating a character. It’s about my grandfather and it got a B+. Later assignments got better grades but people have been telling me to post this here. I’m not sure if anyone outside of my family will be super into it but I’m kind of proud of it.
When we got to the garage it looked like someone had already got there before us and cleaned the place up. We had expected nothing less. There was a brief moment of silence while we looked around the walls, hands on our hips the way men will do when they would like you to think they’re about to start a very important task. My grandmother asked if we would like a cup of tea like any decent Englishwoman would and then went to put the kettle on regardless of the answer.
Her husband, my grandfather had been dead for just over a week. We had bought Gran a bungalow around the corner from my family home so she could be closer to us. We couldn’t have her rattling around that big, old, sandstone house in the middle of nowhere on her own, not now she didn’t drive. All the bedrooms had been cleaned and sorted, the furniture was to be packed up soon and it had fallen to me and Dad to clean out the garage.
Neither of us would vocalise the thought but we were both well aware of a certain unease. The unease of packing up or throwing away a man’s possessions, his artifacts he left behind when he went. Especially these artifacts that were so important to Papa. (The entire family has always called my grandfather Papa. Ever since my older brother in his infancy failed to grasp the word ‘Grandpa’.)
Hanging on a hook was his worn flatcap, faded beyond the point where any original colours were discernable. Next to them, thick, beige gloves made and bought specifically to wear while driving. Things people don’t have any more.
We made for the counter first, past the one and only window looking out onto the immaculate garden and the small greenhouse he grew tomatoes in. To this day the smell of tomatoes bring him back to me. His tools were, as always, laid out in a neat row at perfect 90 degree angles from the edge of the counter. Trained soldiers couldn’t do better.
Everything was organised to a seemingly impossible degree. Little boxes of nails, separated by size. Pliers hung in the exact spot every time they had been put back, until a perfect pliers-shaped patch of the wall’s original colour had formed. He was an engineer through and through. You only needed to look up for proof. If you did you’d see a small wooden block, hanging from a string from the ceiling. When Papa parked his car in the garage he would slowly edge his way in up until the point where the wooden block made a small ‘thud’ against the windshield. That told him the car was in just the right spot. The garage door could close leaving three inches of space between it and the car’s exhaust pipe. The front end of the car was almost but not quite touching the freezer. Precision.
His tools may have been well looked after but they were old and some were more than likely dangerous in less capable hands so they were placed in bin-bags never to be seen again. We found a bundle of sepia photographs underneath a wooden box, wrapped up with a collection of leaflets and ticket stubs from my grandparent’s around-the-world cruise twenty years ago.
We sorted through more hammers, screwdrivers and metal devices that, to me, looked for all the world like medieval torture devices. We even found a box of old, blunt razors as if anybody would ever need to keep such things. He’d been through a lot of them. He was never a believer in electric shaving and couldn’t stand even coming downstairs in the morning without a clean shave. Gran had thanked a nurse profusely for keeping him clean-shaved during his final weeks in the hospital.
Which is not to say he was a stickler for propriety. This is still the same man who marched into his living room one Sunday having forgotten to zip up. Gran had tutted ‘For God’s sake Norman, your fly is undone!’ Papa’s response instantly became a classic in our household: ‘Never mind. A dead bird doesn’t fall out of the nest.’
When we were done things didn’t look much different. We had probably created more mess than the garage had ever seen just trying to sort it out. Dad asked me if I wanted to keep something of his to remember him by. How could it be possible to not remember him? All the same, of course I wanted something but my little sister had claimed the expertly hung, wooden parking aid. I picked up an ancient-looking wooden ruler. I’m sure Dad gave me the full run-down on its technical name but I don’t remember. It folds out like a pair of wings until it’s straight. It can then be extended on either side. It’s worn out but obviously still usable, practical and made to last. It seemed like I picked it at random but in retrospect it was perfect.