The last grandparent I had died thirty-three years ago. I knew all four of my grandparents to varying degrees, as much as a young kid can know an older person just before they’re gone. But my brother, who is only four years younger than me, doesn’t remember anything about two of them and barely remembers a third.
Even though they may be mostly strangers to me or to some of my cousins, they still stay with us. They were present when we grew up even if they weren’t with us. That my grandparents (and great-grandparents) shaped my parents and the way I grew up and learned and didn’t learn is clearly evident to me.
Cousins I barely know share habits I have. Card players, sports junkies, jokers and puzzlers. Some of us look alike, some of us have the same hairlines, walk alike or have the same shoulders or smiles. Those are some of the good things. My family has also had its fair share of alcoholics and broken marriages and self-destructive behaviour. While I fully acknowledge that personal responsibility should be more dominant a factor than heredity, I can’t help but see the patterns. Sometimes I find that the dustiness of what seems like the distant past disguises what is only as far away from us as we choose it to be. There are things that happened to me yesterday or last year that are less permanent than things that unfolded eighty years ago.
My wife and I were arranging our funerals today. I probably have many dozens and dozens of relatives buried in the two cemeteries near where I live. Fifty ancestors within a five minute bike ride. They didn’t know me or know the man I became. I didn’t know them when they were young and without pain or worry. But we share the same blood.
My wife and I will be going in with my parents and my Dad’s grandfather. My great-grandfather wasn’t actually a blood relation because my grandmother was adopted. But my dad loved him dearly and that’s more than enough. Frank Greenslade died in 1962, a few years before I was born. He bought his plot and his stone for $15 and $35. I think he knew he was sick because he only bought it a few months before he died. It overlooks the primary school I eventually attended a decade later. That’s where my parents are. On a hill overlooking the schoolyard where I grew up.
I never met Great Grandpa Frank but we are in the same neighbourhood already. And some day, we’ll be even closer. What are the odds? Maybe they are higher than I may have ever thought.