“Your grandpa is dying.” I can’t remember who phoned. It seems odd that I can’t recall.
Probably some distant cousin letting me know, “He doesn’t have long to live.”
I would have sped 300 miles to his bedside but my 1960 Ford Galaxy wouldn’t hear of it. Every time I tried to inch above 50 it would slow down, on its own, to 20-25 mph. 15 minutes then went by before I nursed the car back up to 50 but, even a millimeter, above 50 and the slow down/inch up process would begin again.
As tight as my fingers gripped the hard, skinny steering wheel, you think I was blowing through the dark night at 120. Sitting bolt upright the whole ten hours except when I leaned forward, going down hill, trying to coax a little more speed out of my old white horizontally finned Ford. If I was careful, the indicator would creep a little above 50, on the downhills, and not slow but, I had to be very careful– a little too much gas pedal and I would crawl down to 25.
Ten hours, most of it at night, on empty two lane highways, yo-yo-ing from 20-50 and no way, in 1967, to know how he was progressing. Was he rallying? Was he dead? Who was with him? Who sat with my grandmother at his side? I knew I was his favorite. Did he ask for me?
Ten hours to keep thinking the same thoughts and framing the same questions. Ten hours to think of fishing and hunting and trying to catch his three fingered fast ball.
Ten hours of stinging eyes and fury at my slowness. I want to see him one more time. I want to hug his grizzle-bearded face. I can think of hugging, alone in the darkness, with no one to judge me as “too soft, too girlie.”
I parked next to the three story hospital, ran to the desk, inquired and found his room after running up stairs to the top floor.
One table light shined.
Grandma sits next to the bed.
No one is there except her.
And a nurse, with a pointy cap, on her hands and knees, looking under the radiator.
And the body of grandpa.
I kissed the stubble on the not-yet-cold face..
I hugged grandma, an unreligious woman, not given to conversation or useless emotion. The words trickled between us.
The nurse stood and dusted off her knees, “I found it.”
She touched grandma on the shoulder and said, “I’ll be back to check on you.”
She showed me the wedding ring the nurse had given her, “As he died his hand flopped over the edge of the bed, the ring fell off and rolled all the way over yonder, under the radiator. You should have heard it rolling. It was so quiet in here.”
She asked me to hold it for her and I did.
I gave it back to her before the funeral. She put it on his emaciated finger in the coffin. I went back, at fifty miles per hour max, to my freshman year in college.
49 years later, as of this week, I can still hear grandpa’s wedding ring rolling across the tile floor.