A short piece written about my grandfather in 2017.
by Marcus Jonathan Chapman
My grandfather was a mechanic. I remember the bar of soap he used to clean off his hands. A dry bar with deep black and grey grooves. I wasn’t sure which was doing the cleaning; his hands or the bar. At the dinner table I distinctly remember how clean his hands appeared. The smell of his shirt a mixture of sweat and grease. It was a comforting smell. A smell I wanted to emit when I became a man. Before every meal I would hold hands with my grandparents while my grandpa blessed the food. After dinner he would read his bible, old and worn with nearly every page highlighted, underlined or dog-eared. His favorite book was Revelation. He always talked about Jesus coming back and taking us home. How he couldn’t wait for the day Jesus came back. How it wouldn’t be long now before Jesus came home. He pointed out all of the signs in Revelation and said how we were living in end times.
I remember the things he said. At the time they didn’t mean very much but now thinking about him they make me sad. My grandfather isn’t alive anymore but before he died in his nineties he tried to end his life in his seventies.
Entering my grandfathers garage from inside the house I was met with the heavy smell of grease mixing with my grandfathers body odor. After walking My grandfathers garage was a monument to tools and craftsmanship.
Looking back now the things I wish he would have taught me like how to change the oil in a car, change the brakes, check the fluids, take apart and re-build an engine, all of those things he always stopped when I got to his house. Instead he taught me about the bible and about Jesus. I think I’ve gotten past deconstructing everything he told me. Now I’m at the point where I am reconstructing Jesus, the bible and my cultural/religious upbringing for myself.
From what I’ve gathered, everyone, upon reaching adulthood does some relearning and reconstructing of things they were taught as children. Well this has been the most painful, slow remodel of all the constructs so far. The way life goes, the reconstructing will probably never end.
When I was four years old my grandfathers white Chevrolet station wagon broke down on the 5 interstate on our way from Oakland to Redlands, CA. I was in the back seat by myself, my grandma in the front passenger seat and my grandpa driving. I only know this because my grandma doesn’t drive. The rest of the story I’m not sure if I remember or if I’ve heard so many times that I’ve mixed it in with my memories. I’ve filled in a few details. It doesn’t matter.
The Chevy breaks down, grandpa grumbles and grunts out of the drivers seat and lifts the hood of the car. Grandma’s jet black beehive hair turns around and she smiles showing the wide gap in her front teeth. She gets out of her seat, grabs some blankets from the trunk and sits with me in the back. Grandpa walks back from using the call box and gets in the back seat on the other side. It’s a cold night and I’m snuggled between grandpa and grandma while we wait for the highway patrol to show up. We’d been waiting for a couple of hours. While we sit their Grandpa points out the stars through the sun roof.
I have a vivid memory of his finger dotting the sky, leaving tiny bright lights in ancient shapes. My grandfather did this on more than one occasion. I remember my grandpa telling me where Jesus would come from when he came back to earth.
“You see that star right in the middle of Orion’s belt? That’s where Jesus is right now. That’s where He (capital H) is going to come from to take us home. That’s where heaven is.”
Presumably where Jesus cleansed the temple, leaving many disappointed millerites and thus a new cell of religions virus split off and they called it Seventh-Day Adventism.
After my grandpa said this, they tell me that I sat their staring at the middle star in Orion’s belt . They tell me that I looked like I was thinking. Then, they tell me I said this, “Is Jesus going to come before the police do?”
They did. The police came and drove us to a motel 6. And that’s it.
At the hotel, they tell me I was so restless I jumped from bed to bed before crashing. A couple of hours later my aunt came and drove us the rest of the way home.
But when they tell me, they stop after what I said. And while they are laughing and smacking the table I think about that little kid and everything he saw after that night. Everything I remember.
11 years later, when I was 15. My grandparents now living in Redlands, a few minutes away from my house. My grandfather started his car, closed the garage, and breathed in the exhaust from a hose he pinched in the driver’s side window that ran into the exhaust pipe. He sat and waited for Jesus to come.
But again, the cops came before Jesus could. My grandma found him in the garage and dialed 911 just in time.
Then I ran. I ran from everything, including my roots in the Adventist church, a part of my culture. I denied any affiliation with Adventists and hated the fact that I knew what Nuteena and stripples were. That I knew what the blood of the lamb was supposed to mean even though I didn’t really understand it. I hated the fact that I felt guilty about listening to music that made my head bob and felt guilty about smoking and drinking. So I drank more and thought about a god that let my grandpa down. If jesus couldn’t save my devout grandfather, what chance did I have?
But I never blamed my grandpa. In fact for many years I defended him saying that suicide is taking matters into your own hands. I would tell myself that he was like Hunter S. Thompson and went out on his own terms, knowing that he always would. I was kidding myself.
I don’t know about a moral to these stories.
The questions of god, purpose and existence zip around in an infinite loop in my head. I do know this, the pedestal I built for my grandfather no longer exists but the love I feel for him is still alive. I remember giving him a hug at the behavioral medical clinic where they took him on a 5150 after his suicide attempt. He was wearing a gown, his eyes glassed over from the cup-o-pills, and his few remaining hairs tousled. he gave me a dopey smile and a big hug.
I experienced my own great disappointment and it was my grandpa that disappointed me. He clung to the church like a lush grips their liquor. And now he’s a husk of what I remember. If spirituality is the ocean and religion is the vessel my grandfather never learned how to swim. And when the storms came, the foundation he clung to didn’t hold up. The great disappointment wasn’t a singular event, my grandpa relives it every single day.