My grandfather was a man of few words. Very few. He was rather unapproachable and always quite a mystery to me. At the age of five my parents had been divorced for sometime. I was living at my grandparent’s place and my mother was working as a waitress downtown.
Each morning he would come out and sit at his usual chair at the kitchen table. After setting and eating his Kix cereal and drinking a few cups of coffee he would move deliberately into the living room. At the end of the couch set a tank of oxygen. He breathed heavily and it made me curious. No one explained it and I didn’t ask. I observed.
He would sit for quite awhile on the couch as if resting. Then he would rise and walk painstakingly to the middle of the room where he would lean on the round dinner table catching his breath. After a few seconds he was on the go again to the hall and into the bathroom where he would set on a stool and after resting some more he would shave himself.
Everything he did was done with some effort and as if he was struggling to breath. I had noticed he had purple lips and wondered about them. It must have been horrible to not be getting the oxygen he needed.
I picture him in my mind’s eye wearing his usual Irish driving cap, a tweed fitted short jacket and grey cuffed slacks when he was out and about. He never talked much and it was obvious he didn’t think much of kids. But with a scowl on his face he put up with my attention. I would insist on helping my grandfather with household chores such as clean up and painting. He would disdainfully show me how he wanted it done and I would be right there beside him helping to do the job.
He would set out on the front porch in the evenings and look out at the foothills. He showed me a house clear up in the foothills that was shaped like a bird cage and built out over the edge. It was a wonderful house and he and I shared the find together. He told me once that his car had driven him home one night. I remember I laughed and thought that was so funny. Years later I learned that my gram-pa went downtown to a bar and played cards in the back room, drinking and smoking until the morning hours. This had gone on for years after his retirement. He had been a manager in a grocery store for many years and a private in the army in World War I.
Finally the day came when my grampa came out and set in the big over stuffed chair in the living room. He huffed and puffed and then finally drew his last breath.
I didn’t realize until years later that I had been watching him die of emphazema.