Reflections on a Christmas trip

It was enlightening spending time with the part of the family that I don’t often spend time with, due to sheer distance (my father’s parents live 500 miles away and his sister and her family live in Italy). I also had a few good laughs thanks to my grandfather. He’s quite the character. I believe I talked about him in a previous post, but that didn’t cover everything.

My grandparents live in a “unique” retirement community. Everyone gets their own home, with housekeeping service, nightly communal dinners in a dining hall, and other amenities. It’s a big step up from a retirement home. All of the residents also get their own electric golf cart for use in getting around the gated community. It’s a very good idea. The electric golf carts cut down on pollution, and an elderly driver behind the wheel of a golf cart isn’t nearly as dangerous as an elderly driver behind the wheel of an automobile (I’d like to see a golf cart take out an entire farmer’s market!). As a consequence of the golf carts, there are golf cart parking lots near all of the buildings inside the community. They look like miniaturized normal parking lots, or alternatively, they look like normal parking lots, and you think you’re a giant.

We were walking back from dinner one night and grandpa, driving grandma in the golf cart, passed us back on the way to the house. He honked the horn and my dad didn’t immediately step out of the way, so my grandpa inquired, “Have you been run over recently?” I cannot ascertain if this question was asked in jest, but my dad did exit the path of the vehicle.

If you ever wanted to know who drinks O’Douls non-alcoholic beer, well … it’s my grandfather. He has heart problems and alcohol probably isn’t good for him, so he drinks O’Douls instead. Of course, this doesn’t keep him from ordering wine with his meals. Ah well.

He was working on a large Christmas card list while we were there. He’s been sending this thing out once annually every year now for decades. The list used to be as large as 250 people, but it’s now down to 180. The only way you can get off the list is by dying, so that says a bit about the sad state of growing old. The list is an accumulation of pretty much all the people my grandfather has known throughout his life. It includes copious military buddies from when he served decades ago. He writes a long default letter and then adds a personal message to each letter before sending it.

I cannot imagine trying to compile such a list myself. I barely know anyone’s address. I can think of dozens of people I’ve known who have already exited my life, people who I would desperately like to contact but have no idea how to reach. I can see the value in such a list. Also, imagine the work it takes to send out such a letter (let alone the cost of the stamps). My grandfather uses the Internet now, and surely such a mailing could much more easily be done by use of the CC: field on an email, but the problem is, even though my grandfather uses a computer, the majority of the people on the mailing list probably don’t. There’s a whole generation of people out there growing old who will die never having used computers; they’re the last vestiges of those who still use the postal system for correspondence rather than just sending stuff.

My granddad’s bathroom tells a story just by itself. A battered embossed bronze plate hangs above the toilet, bearing the names and insignias of sixteen German cities. If you didn’t know better, you might think, that this being the South, there was some kind of Neo-Nazi Fatherland worship going on. But I do know better. My grandfather spent many years as part of the occupying army in Germany post-World War II, and this was simply something he brought back, decades ago. If anything, it’s Anti-Nazi.

Also in the bathroom, hiding on the corner of the sink behind a lamp, seven soap sculptures sit on end. I say “sculpture”, but they weren’t sculpted consciously. Rather, they were used somewhat normally, but always stored on end, so, over time, they narrowed in the middle but not on the ends. Once they became dangerously close to breaking all the way through my grandfather set them aside and got a fresh bar to work with. On the sink near the faucet, an eighth bar of soap stands balanced on end, its middle only slightly narrowed, betraying its ultimate fate.

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