Pistachios, the Trailblazers, and Generations of Love
My most vivid memories are of him sitting at a card table in the middle of the living room with a deck of cards dealt out into game after game of solitaire, a bowl of pistachios next to him, and the Portland Trailblazers playing basketball on the TV in front of him. I remember his handshake but I don’t remember the last time I shook his hand. I remember his voice but not much of what he ever said to me. I remember the collection of trucker hats that always hung just on the inside of the door that hid the upstairs staircase in his house, but the only one I ever remember seeing him in was a black and red Trailblazers cap.
My great-grandfather, obviously, was a Trailblazers fan.
He was second in a line of four men who share the same name, but was never to be referred to in any way as a Junior. His past was full of stories of That Time He Should Have Died, But Didn’t, including The Time A Building Fell On Him And He Ended Up In A Body Cast For An Indecent Amount Of Time. He was obviously incredibly proud of each of his children, and his grandchildren, and his grandchildren’s children. He walked with a cane for as long as I can remember. He had a dog I loved, a rope swing in his front yard, and lived mere feet from the North Dakota border, on a street no one ever used, and so never stopped us from standing in the middle of it with one foot on either side of the line proclaiming we were in Two Places At Once. His eyes always lit up when you surprised him with a visit, he always tried to offer you ice cream if his wife hadn’t offered it first and sometimes even after she’d offered it, if you had attempted to politely decline. It was a rare case, in that house, that those two would let you leave without feeding you something, even if you finally just gave in to digging your fingers into a jar of chocolate covered raisins. He still called my grandma “Mom,” decades after their youngest kid had grown and moved on.
The truth is, of all the Important People in the Olson Family, he is one I certainly feel I should know better than I do. By the time I knew better, he was sick, frail, had gone through surgeries and complications from surgeries and could barely make it out of a chair without serious assistance, much less hold too lively a conversation. But he was married to my great grandmother for most of his life; they were a package deal. She had always done most of the talking for both of them anyway, and as such, most of what I know about my great grandma could probably be attributed to my great grandpa as well. They were a team, they were best friends, they were still, even after all the world had done to change them, very much in love. And together, they gave as much love away to every single one of us as they could. My grandma, without my grandpa by her side, will undoubtedly be just a bit different.
I know my father well. I know his father not quite as well, but I know them both well enough to draw one very important comparison. Both men are equally capable of making me feel like The Most Special Person On The Planet. It doesn’t matter to them what I’ve done or what I’ll do or who I know or where I am or any of that silliness. What matters is that I am inherently a part of this community of people, these people all connected by, yes, my great grandfather. It’s a big family. And they love me just for loving them. They’d probably love me if I didn’t love them, but I have to say, it’s pretty impossible not to. And the thing is, in this way, my dad is exactly like his father, and from what I know of my great grandfather, I think I can say with complete certainty that in this way, my grandfather is exactly like his father. It makes me feel like I really do know him better than I could ever really give myself credit for, because in the end, that is what matters– your capacity for love. How much of it you can give away. The love in this whole family is so thick you could slice through it with a knife. He was at the head of it all. I will know him because of what I know of each of the other members of my family. There’s a small piece of him in all of us.
I guess that means he’ll live on.
I have been incredibly blessed to have a great-grandfather as long as I have, as too many people don’t ever know their grandparents. What I am always just a little disappointed about is that I never knew the first Andrew James Olson, because the last three are three of the most wonderful, incredible people. But then again, maybe I know him, too. He is, after all, the one my own father was named for. There’s no doubt that the light shining through my dad’s eyes was passed down through the generations from The Original.
These men have come, some have gone and the rest will go. It’s a sobering thought, but nonetheless, knowing they are a part of me, the person I have always been and the person I’ll become?
Oh, I can be nothing but thankful for that.
We’ll miss you, Grandpa.
I hope every TV in Heaven is playing a Trailblazers game.