***The following is something I wrote to submit in a writing contest. I just emailed it to the judges five minutes ago. I am only admitting this now so that if slash when I don’t win, I can refer back to this day as the day I was brave enough to enter a writing contest and confess it to the world, and then I can have your sympathy. Because really, the quest for sympathy is the sole motivating factor in my life. Thank you, that is all.***
My grandpa was the son of a son of a son of a farmer. I could’ve just said, “My grandpa came from a long line of farmers,” but that would not have produced quite the same effect. It would have been a cliché, and my grandpa was anything but a cliché. And besides, it’s making better use of imagery to say, “My grandpa was the son of a son of a son of a farmer.” It practically forces you to picture four generations of farmers in dusty blue overalls with their backs to the wind, and sprigs of alfalfa peeking out from between their sun-chapped lips. [See what I mean about imagery?]
Anyway, he was a farmer, and I am nothing like him.
For example, I am addicted to Diet Dr. Pepper, but I never saw my grandpa drink anything but tap water and two percent milk…and the occasional mug of hot honey-lemon water, for his gout. (Or was it his diabetes?) Regardless, he drank it, and I couldn’t imagine why anyone would swallow such fowl-tasting stuff, but he did, and that was that.
My grandpa made his living by rising well before dawn, tilling and plowing and raking his fields under the scorching Arizona sun, and selling his harvest for profit. In fact, he worked so hard and so long in those infinitely dusty fields, that at the age of fifty-four, he was hospitalized and diagnosed with the lungs of an eighty year-old chain smoker, yet he had never, in his life, touched a cigarette. Or a cigar. Or a pipe. Or a joint, for that matter (he despised all smoking equally). He was a hard, hard worker, and that is an understatement.
I, on the other hand, take any chance I can to cut corners and create less work for myself. Oh, I do what needs to be done, but nothing more, and usually less, if I can get away with it. I would make a terrible farmer. My pitiful crops would never make it to market because I’d spend too many mornings cocooned in bed, convincing myself that they could last just one more day without water.
He was out of bed and already working by five in the morning; I don’t even function properly before noon.
By the same token, I have eight or nine “signature” scents. Maybe even ten. Body sprays, mists, perfumes, I’ve tried them all. I am consumed with such an enormous desire not to stink that a licensed psychiatrist might very well diagnose me with an obsession. I never hesitate to buy a bottle of perfume that claims it will make me successful, sophisticated, secure. Obviously, if a manufacturer could bottle success and sell it, it would be much more expensive than anything I could afford, but still…I try. That’s one thing I have in common with my grandpa—perseverance.
By contrast, though, I can honestly say I never hugged my grandpa a day that he didn’t smell like Bag Balm or Vick’s Vapor Rub, and chickens. Bag Balm and chicken coops—that was his cologne. L’essence de farmer. The Bag Balm was for his cracked and calloused knuckles. Naturally. Me? I use gallons of lotion to avoid ever having cracked skin in the first place.
My grandpa valued hard work, valued a firm handshake, valued a dollar. He didn’t graduate from college and didn’t encourage any of his kids to do so, either. My mother, the oldest of six children, decided she would anyway. She went to college and she loved it and she became a teacher and married my dad who also valued education and worked as a teacher and together they created my older sister who is a teacher, too, and here I am.
I will never be a teacher, not if I can help it.
I attend classes at the university. I’m majoring in English. Presently, “student” is the biggest slice of the pie chart of my identity, and if my grandpa were alive, he wouldn’t care a lick about that. He would write me letters and ask me about my family, my husband, the weather, my church, my job, my summer plans, my health—he would care about me—but it would not occur to him to ask about my classes.
Interestingly enough, I am not hurt by that assumption. Obviously, he’s dead, and it’s only my own mental workings that have decided he wouldn’t care about my education, but it’s more than that—even if it were true, even if he were alive and proved me right and didn’t ever ask about my classes, I still wouldn’t feel bad. I wouldn’t mind because I wouldn’t blame him. In fact, I would very much agree that school is for sissies and I’m wasting my time and it’s all very dreadful to sit in these English classes and read about The Great Ones when I could be being great myself. I totally agree.
But there’s a catch. There’s always a catch:
If I were an existentialist, I wouldn’t care about school with its grades, or jobs with their paycheques. I wouldn’t really even need to care about my grandpa. If I were an existentialist, I wouldn’t have to be anything—I would just be.
But I learned that bit about existentialism in school. So. There it is. I don’t want to care about university, but how can I make light of all the school that makes up who I am? I don’t want to sit through classes, but how can I make it as a writer if I don’t? I have so much to say, so much I want to do with my time outside of copying notes from my professors’ lectures, but those lectures are vital now to my greatness later.
Would my grandpa agree? No, probably not. But that’s the thing about time: it changes people. His father probably thought that it was foolish to move to Arizona from Idaho just for some girl, but in Arizona, my grandpa made his fortune, he made his family, and he flourished.
And I can’t imagine myself as an Idaho farm-girl anyway.
So here I am, in school. I’m writing these words about Ibsen, Munro, Hemingway, Yates, but none of them mean anything to me. I write my essays because I must—it is a means to an end. It’s important, yes, but not really. This—writing this, these very words—this is important.
[That was rhetoric. I learned it at school. My grandpa might not care about school, and I might not, either; but I’ll graduate, because without it, I could not have written this.]
In my head, I am not in school and I’m not snowed in and I’m not in Canada. It’s summer and I’m in Arizona—hot, and glorious. My grandpa looks at me with those eyes that can only be described as crinkly, and he pats my shoulder with that solid hand, that wrinkly hand whose skin has lost its elasticity, and so, when pinched, stays standing in a little mound for fully thirty seconds before finally settling back down to its natural state, and I miss him.