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How I Go

December 11, 2008

There’s an old family story that I love to be told, but will probably never tell well. It involves my great-grandfather, begins with a giant wall and a truck, and ends with every bone in his body crushing, putting him in a full body cast for a very, very long time. The reason I can’t tell the story well is because every time I hear it, I’m so amazed by it. It’s a real life tall tale. I’m afraid that it’s already so amazing, I’ll end up exaggerating the facts without even realizing I’m doing it. Maybe the facts have already been exaggerated for me. I’ll never know.

He was fairly young when it happened. I want to say mid-to-late forties. He still had kids at home. By all rights, he should have died. Every time this story is told, it’s said that he was expected to die. He didn’t.

In fact, my great-grandfather is still alive. I am twenty-two years old, and I still have a great-grandfather. My father is 48 years old, and he still has a grandfather. If you ask me, that’s pretty damn cool.

So, almost a year and a half ago now, I was sitting on the patio of my great-grandfather’s house in Eastern Montana with my great-grandmother and my grandfather, my great-grandfather and great-grandmother’s son. My great-grandfather was inside sleeping in his recliner. I was 21 and it was the very first time I’d hear the story of my great-grandfather’s near death experience. My grandpa loves to talk, and had already talked my ear off that afternoon, but when this story started, I sat up to pay attention once again.

He sat there next to me, smoking cigarette after cigarette. I swear he went through an entire pack of Marlboros in the two and a half hours we’d been sitting there. My great-grandma kept offering him ice cream, as if it was some sort of instant cure for nicotine addiction (bless her heart, she’ll try to fix anything with a banana milkshake). He wouldn’t take it. He said, “My grandfather smoked a box of cigars a day and he lived to the ripe old age of 72!” (I have no idea how old my great-great-grandfather was when he died. Suffice it to say, he didn’t die of lung cancer, and he was old when he died, and that’s the point my own grandpa was trying to make.) “My dad smoked, too. And Courtney, did I ever tell you about the time…” and I shook my head no, and there we were, liked we had flashed back to a more colorful, more interesting world– like we had suddenly landed in Tim Burton’s Big Fish.

My grandpa relayed the story, even adding in tidbits here and there about my dad and aunt, how young they were, how innocent about the entire ordeal they were. Still, it wasn’t about them. It was about my great-grandfather and his miraculous recovery. And it was true. It was miraculous. I’d known the man for 21 years, and although he’d become old and had somewhat recently survived some other, unrelated medical complications, I’d watched him in his healthier days. He never once to me seemed like anything out of the ordinary had happened to him, much less been body-casted for more than a year. He was a picture of a real survivor.

And so with the evidence of his grandfather and his father behind him, my grandfather said, “We obviously all have our time. I’ll go when it’s mine, cigarettes or not.”

In Big Fish, Edward Bloom repeats one of the themes of the story in a simple five-word phrase, “That’s not how I go!” He reminds me a lot of my grandfather, especially when I think of this story. And honestly, he reminds me of myself.

I’ve never heard my dad speak to his own invincibility. I don’t know if he believes in it or not, though it honestly wouldn’t suprise me if he did, at least to some degree. But judging by my grandfather’s narrative that summer day in the Montana afternoon sun, I’d say this invincibility thing runs in the family. It’s in our blood. Maybe it even belongs to the first born, but that I can’t say for sure.

It’s not that I’m like Edward Bloom and I know when and how I’ll go, so I know not to worry until that moment comes. I’m not even exactly like my grandfather, who is willing to continue the smoking habit because he’s gotta die eventually anyway, and he’s sure he’ll die when the time is good and right. I just know, and I always have, that I have a lot to do with my life– a lot that I’m meant to do with my life. I don’t know the exact details, but I know which road I have to take. I’ve always just had this feeling, you know? A voice whispering in my ear, saying, “This is your life. Just go with it.”

I’m not scared to live my life because I know I’m meant to live it. I’ve always known, but thinking tonight, I realized that I’ve got four generations (all with the same exact name, believe it or not) worth of evidence to back me up.

In other, slightly entertaining news, my grandma–my mom’s mom–now has a facebook profile. I accepted her friend request tonight. It looks very odd seeing someone’s birthday listed as being in 1926. Oh, Grandma. I love you, you old woman, you.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. bigskygirl permalink
    December 11, 2008 6:46 am

    it makes me sad to think about the mortality of people i love. i will miss andy very much but hope it won’t be for a VERY long time — cigarettes or not. ;)

    also, totally saw the facebook thing and was like “isn’t that her gramma’s name?” thinking your mom had a sister with the same name. oh boy. :)

  2. Barb permalink
    December 11, 2008 2:11 pm

    You have to do, you WILL do it, and you will do it soon…dad and I didn’t break out of the ordinary until 4 years ago, and look how it’s turned out :) Go for it!

  3. Hazel permalink
    December 11, 2008 2:57 pm

    i also have a great-grandma and it’s great! she’s still kicking and is as loud as ever!

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