thirty years ago on a cold january night my grandfather went out to start the snowblower, most likely a cigarette dangling from his lips, and suffered a fatal heart attack. i remember when my mother got the call and went pale and still. we were in atlanta, then, i think. back to new jersey we went for the funeral. i was 5 going on 6. at the viewing, i wore a dress she had sewn for me, long sleeves, blue floral, a matching fabric pouch made from the leftover fabric, a blue ribbon tied in the hair that is forever falling in my face. i remember trying to find places to hide, familiar faces, there were so many in attendance…the ambulance corps he headed, the local police come to pay their respects, so many uniforms amidst the friends and family spread among the floors of the home. we wore the customary torn black ribbons pinned to us, keriah, symbolic of the loss of the loved one and the mourners’ anger with god for taking him. my mother didn’t let me go with them to the gravesite to say goodbye. she thought i was too young.
i didn’t see much of my grandparents when i was little; we were always moving somewhere, farther and farther away. but when my parents separated my mother and i moved back in with them and i spent the most time with him i ever would. intuitively, i was drawn to him, the quiet, intelligent, wry man, who found excuses for excursions and got us both out of the house. his home, my mother’s childhood home. they still had the antique stores in those years, my grandfather and his brothers, and we two early risers would make our getaway to the diner, stopping first for pink hostess sno-balls and candy cigarettes for me, the paper for him. at the diner counter he would smoke and drink coffee and i would spin back and forth quietly next to him on my stool. then i would go to the store with him, watch him open and go about his tasks, sit with a book and read, walk around and look at the antiques, ask about things. i think the ride in the car was always my favorite part. at night after my bath he would spread a towel over his legs, untangle and smooth out my hair as he dried it. someone doing this today will still, unfailingly, calm and put me to sleep.
thirty years he has been dead and thirty years it took me to finish circling back to my first hideaway. thirty years of stolen rides and long hair in my face and torn ribbons and sneaking sweets and life on the lam. thirty years it took for me to move to new york city, to come home to the place of my first adventure. for my grandfather, sanford kahn, the first to hold my hand and lead me here, to teach me to take the time and space to learn who i am, to bring me to the place i love more than anywhere else in the world and have made my home. for my grandfather.