My grandfather was a self-effacing man. He walked at a meandering pace, turned his head away when people spoke of him. If I remember any aspects of my childhood as keenly as I do, it would be because of how much I measured myself against him in looking back. He was quiet in a way that many people read as dutiful, and you start to realize how a temperament such as his could be a draw to a more firebrand type, like my cousin. Like my father, loud, biting, admiring in others their poise above all else.
We'd go to visit him and my grandmother every few months, my family and I, their home upstate. I remember a particular day when we arrived early. I opened the front door as my parents and sister were still unloading gifts in the car. My grandmother was brewing tea in the kitchen and hadn't heard me enter, and so I quietly sprinted upstairs with my toes extended in my socks to pad the sound of my footsteps. When I opened the door to the study, I saw him sitting there with his back to me, quiet, focused. I couldn't see his face but I still held in awe how his shoulders remained unmoving in his slouching position. For a time, I only stood there.
I was too nervous to try to surprise him at this point, but he was startled nonetheless as I approached him. I could only glimpse the page before he closed it, placing his pen down in the one hand while reaching deftly for a dry leaf with the other to be used as a bookmark. The page was unruled and the space between each written line was uneven. It could have been a poem, or a letter. I continued gazing at the binding of the notebook even as he picked me up and held me on his lap. He must have noticed I was looking, but only asked me how I was.
My father seemed to hardly be aware of this aspect of my grandfather, and I quickly realized it was pointless for me to keep asking. I had always wanted to learn more. I had always wanted to know about his writing: for what purpose, and to whom?