I have pictures of lighthouses all over my apartment. I have small wooden and ceramic lighthouses around also. I have larger wooden ones as well, and a small one-sail boat sitting near one of them… a simple boat, a simple soul, seeking the light and direction, the lux et veritas, of one lighthouse.
On one of those lighthouses, a tall17 inch striped one given to me by my sister, there is a yellow ribbon at the top. That ribbon is tattered, creased, and looks ugly as it has lost all its shape and bounce… now a battered yellow thing. Yet the ribbon is special to me.
On closer inspection of that ribbon is my name and the words “Saudi Arabia” on it. But this is no memoriable from the yellow ribbons of Desert Storm. This is the yellow ribbon that laid on the pillow of my grandfather while he finally lost to the sickness and died, the words “departed, 12-10-90” written on the center of the ribbon.
My heart empties tears down my face on this rare moment when I grieve the loss of my grandfathers.
A couple years later I was in college in Monticello, Arkansas undergoing R.A. training the week prior to when the students showed up on campus. The campus security officer and director of the R.A.s came up to me that night, telling me that my other grandfather was in the hospital and that he wasn’t expected to make it the night. I got into my car and through the twisting country roads of that region I made it from one county, around another, into the third in record time. My grandfather made it through the night, in poor health, and my displeasure of the bickering and maliciousness of my family despaired me greatly. Petty is too high a word.
A couple weeks laters my grandfather passed away. I was at the funeral, still have the church program on my desk in a small box, and I remember standing at the funeral, walking by with my cousins, past the coffin. I alone stopped and saluted my grandfather, a man who served aboard bombers in WW2.
My two grandfathers were very different men, but though the masks were different, the love was the same.
I learned my guitar and I’ve played in many bars from Japan and Thailand to Alaska and California. However, most special of dreams of playing was not for a crowded stadium… but for an intimate bar and a soulful playing of a song. That song is Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Life Without You”. In my dream I announce my love for my grandfathers, devote the song to them, and sing and play my heart out in memory of them.
I’ve never tried. Though I can play the song, or can again with a little practice (I don’t play my guitar much any more), there feeling of level of tribute warranted and my own innability to reach that pinnacle is too great a gap. They deserve a better tribute than that… the sputtered song from an out of practice guitarist.
The only tribute I have is my life… that I am true to myself, to my ideals, to my principles, regardless of hardship incurred upon me. I know that I do not know hardship… for my grandfathers have known hardship. How dare I complain of hardship to them? And so I live my life, in accordance to principles… as best as I can. And while the song plays, and as usual when I hear this song my mind turns to my grandfathers, I see how lacking I am in living up to my principles, how many times I’ve failed, how many times I’ve come short. I try to imagine them looking down on me from Heaven (though I don’t believe in Heaven) and I ask myself… what is there for them to be proud of?
But this is minor… this self berating… for I miss my grandfathers. I remember sitting in a boat on a lake in Arkansas, the quite country, the spring sun shining like gold through the early morning, and my grandfather pointing out limbs drooping heavy with mayflies, telling me that underneath were perch, waiting for a flie to fall into the water. I remember my other grandfather, showing me his newest gadget whenever I went to visit him. Whether it was a new camera, gun, or a cb radio, he wanted to show me all about it. I realize now that it wasn’t that he was so proud of the gadget, but that it was an opportunity to share with me.
My grandfather continued to work a rural paper route into his old, old age, just to keep up on bills. Driving for hours a day exhausted him, and yet he still would drive the four and a half hours to Mississippi to see my mom, sister, and me. When I could I would drive out to get them, bringing them to Misssissippi and then taking them back so that they could sleep. For they would never stay the night, drive four hours to see us, stay for a few hours, and drive four hours back to catch a nap and get up at 2:00 for the paper route. My mom never made the trip because it “tired her out”. If I had any respect left for my mom (which was very little at this time) it was gone completely from this remark.
I miss my grandfathers.
Life Without You
Stevie Ray Vaugh
Well hello baby, Tell me, How have you been?
We all have missed you, And the way you grin
The day is necessary, Every now and then
For souls to move on, Given life back again
Fly on, Fly on, Fly on my friend
Go on, Go on and live again, Love again
Cause day after day, Night after night
Sittin’ here singin’, every, every minute
As the years go passin’ by, by, by, by
A long look in the mirror, We come face to face
Wishin’ our love we took for granted
Lord we had today
Cause Life Without You
All the love, you’ve passed our way
Angels have waited, for so long
Now they have their way
Take your place….