Life's memories in a cardboard box

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By Calen McKinney


He snored softly, his chest rising and falling ever so slowly.

I waited in the room as he slept, secretly hoping to wake him but not wanting to startle him.

I visited my grandfather last weekend at the veteran's center that is now his home. If you read a previous column of mine about this topic, you know he moved there unwillingly. But now, well, he doesn't really know much of anything.

Shortly after being at the veteran's center, my grandfather had two massive strokes. At first it didn't look like he would make it. He surprised everyone but me when he pulled through.

But now he doesn't really know who I am, or who my parents are. The other day, he said he was at a funeral and they wouldn't let him leave. We still don't know whose "funeral" he was attending.

As I went into his room, I thought about what this process has been like for him. I'm sure he's confused, and I hate that. He had to give up his home, his "stuff," his routine, seeing some of his family members and good friends, and I hate that.

But he's safe and the nurses there take great care of him. He's well fed and there are plenty of activities to keep him busy. I like that.

But this column isn't about my grandfather's life now. It's about the life he has had to give up.

Before I went to see him at the veteran's center, my mom and I spent a few hours at his home in Princeton packing up his belongings.

We started in the living room, looking through some old photos and papers that were already organized into cardboard boxes.

My grandfather's house is for sale now, but only because it had to be done. A real estate agent has helped us get his belongings together.

The cardboard boxes contained lots of the "stuff" that makes up a person's life - the report cards from when his sons went to grade school, photos of when my dad helped with his high school football team and financial records dating back to who knows when. We found photos of me when I was a child. We found letters and notes written by both my grandmother and my grandfather.

But what brought back the most memories for me were the boxes and boxes and boxes of clothing we filled to donate to Goodwill.

Going through his closets, I found granddad's suits, one of his favorite jackets and lots of my grandmother's handmade pillowcases and other clothing.

Boxing up my grandparents' belongings was sad, but it also brought back memories made in that tiny house that I will never forget.

I remember splashing in the bathtub as a very young child with toys my grandmother bought me.

I remember the time a mouse decided to sit under the Christmas tree as a "gift" to us. I have never seen my mother run so fast.

I remember just sitting with my grandmother on the couch, her crocheting and me watching television.

I remember her hugs, full of love for me, and a bit tight as if to protect me from whatever might hurt me.

I remember my grandmother cooking breakfast, sifting flour for her biscuits that I didn't like then, but would give anything for now.

I remember bottle-feeding my grandparents' baby goat, Pickles, and running all over their farm with their dog, Charley.

I remember my grandfather planting tomatoes each year and being so proud of them when they grew tall.

Those memories can't be boxed.

I hope people get some good use out of the clothing we donated. And I hope someone buys the house and makes lots of new memories in it.

My grandfather's life now literally fits in a cardboard box. That's sad.

But the realization that there's so much more to his life than what is left in that cardboard box, that's pure joy.

My grandfather never did wake up when I went to visit, and I left him be. He may not have known who I was anyway, but I got to spend some quality time with him.

I told him I love him and said we would be seeing him again soon.

He didn't stir. His chest just rose and fell.