Greetings, all! It's been a while, hasn't it? Well, aside from a few re-uploads, that is. Anyway, I give you a personal narrative which was my Semester-Final last year. I needed to jog my brain for essay ideas this week, so I dug through all my documents and realized...I hadn't put this one up yet! That's odd...but at any rate, it's here now, so enjoy!
Dedicated to Captain Joseph "Quick Draw" McGraw and Mrs. Diana McGraw, with love. Happy Hour for all!
At The End of the World
I'm in church when the world ends. No doubt whatever sermon being read that day makes that fact ironic, but I'm not listening to the sermon, because the world is ending.
Brimstone isn't raining from the sky, the seas aren't boiling, and the mountains aren't crumbling to dust. In fact, the only physical disturbance is the buzzing of a phone in the reverently quiet congregation, and the embarrassed apologies of my family as we shuffle out of the rows of wooden pews and into the gathering space. The voice on the other end of the line is very quiet as it speaks to my mom, telling her the news we've been dreading for a long time.
So this is how the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.
And so, on to the heart of the story where you, the audience, find out that a member of my family has died and I proceed to talk about him so as to celebrate his life. Only one of these two things will happen.
My grandfather has been a part of my life ever since I can remember. In fact, one of the oldest memories I have is of watching him chase a couple of raccoons around our campsite with a broom, looking like a complete lunatic. I remember laughing so hard that I nearly fell out of my chair, watching him scramble this way and that, his mustache bristling like some sort of hairy, angry caterpillar, and shouting, "Get away from my cooler, you damn rascals!"
I'm also properly convinced that if he shaved off that caterpillar mustache of his that he would be the real world equivalent of Popeye. His absurdly similar resemblance to that cartoon sailor has never ceased to amuse me. The way he talked and laughed, the cob pipe, - hell, he even made spinach on a regular basis when we visited. I suggested to him once that he nickname grandma 'Olive Oyl'. But comparing someone to a cartoon character just doesn't quite do them justice.
When someone describes a loved one, I've noticed that apart from the way they look and the stories they can tell about them, how they smell always seems to play a part in their description. Well, I'll be frank – my grandparents smell like old people. It's a good smell though, the kind of smell that's preserved in your memory as familiar and comforting. My grandpa always smelled a tad different from my grandma, who has always smelled like lilac and wine. With grandpa, it was as if you could still smell the lingering smoke of pipes he had snuffed out long ago, and the familiarly sour scent of paint that had long since dried. Honestly, my grandparent's whole house smells like paint.
I'm told that I come from a long line of artists, both on my mother's side and my father's side, so I suppose it's logical that I would inherit those talents - although I definitely have a lot to live up to. Everyone on my mom's side paints or plays an instrument, while everyone on my dad's side sketches and is also, for some reason, inevitably drawn to working with trains for a living. I suppose I inherited the musical skill, the vague ability to draw, and yes, I am rather fond of trains, but I've always been fascinated by (and sometimes jealous of) my grandpa's ability to paint.
The only thing I like better than his paintings are his stories. The time he escorted my mom to her high school prom (in full naval Captain's uniform), and sent the other students running for the hills because they thought he was a cop. The time he took my pre-marriage mom and dad on a week-long fishing trip on which everyone got seasick. When he and his air force buddies flew their planes under a bridge and scared the life out of everyone within 100 miles. But unlike your stereotypical old man who likes to ramble on, my grandpa was a born storyteller. He would do sound effects, was always flailing his hands around in excitement, and honestly, had some really funny stories to tell, both about family and his time in the air force.
A flying ace with five victories and awards such the Navy Cross, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and 8 Air Medals, my grandpa, Captain Joe "Quick Draw" McGraw flew FM-2 Wildcats aboard the USS Gambier Bay. Cue the patriotic music. He'd say – and it sounds cheesy, I know - that it was the best and worst time of his life. Then he'd smile a crooked smile that wouldn't quite reach his eyes, laugh and ruffle my hair in the way only your grandfather is allowed to, then offer me a soda and challenge me to a game of chess, which I would promptly lose.
In 2005, he was inducted into the American Combat Airman Hall of Fame, and after attending the induction ceremony where I fully comprehended for the first time that he wasn't a hero to just me, I searched his name on the internet. Capt. Joseph D. McGraw, I typed in. 4,130,000 results. Clicking on the first one, I come to a website selling a copy of his biographical section (assumedly from a book about the Gambier Bay) and a newspaper clipping with my grandfather's much younger smiling face on it, with his signature on the bottom. What made me smile, however, was the signature that was causing the paper to sell for $25.00 – it was the exact way he signed my birthday cards, complete with the little loop-de-loop and tiny airplane that adorned the end of all his letters. All of which I've kept, for memories sake.
The most recent memory I have of him is of our whole family (on the McGraw side, that is) sitting on the porch of the house, trying desperately to figure out the species of tree in the yard that had the deepest purple leaves we had ever seen. I don't think we ever figured out what it was, but as we sat there speculating, my grandpa jotted the first line of a poem on his napkin, "I never thought I would live to see/ such a peculiar purple tree", and passed it around for all of us to add to it. Yes, this is the kind of thing my family does. We write collaborative poetry. I still have the napkin, which is pinned to my desk right alongside the prayer that grandpa wrote down and gave to me just last year before we went home from visiting on vacation. He stopped me on the way out the door, pressed a small piece of paper into my hand, winked at me, and then kissed me goodbye. Later at the airport, I unfolded the paper. It read;
All day and when you wake at night,
Think of that place of Living light,
Yours within you and all aglow,
Where only God and you can go.
I wish I could show you,
When you are lonely or in darkness,
The astonishing Light
Of your own Being.
Since then, that small scrap of paper with a short but heartfelt prayer has been a permanent fixture on my desk at home. But prayers don't do you much good when the world is ending.
Then again, I suppose my world hasn't ended yet. I haven't received that dreaded phone call from my aunt saying that he's gone and left us. Yet. The situation I described earlier hasn't happened, save for in my nightmares, and don't worry, my grandfather is perfectly alive and well (as well as a 96 year old can be) in Washington State. But there will always be that cruel voice in the back of my head, with its cold hands reaching down and strangling my heart that whispers, "No, not yet. But inevitably, it will."
I'll be the first to say that I'm a coward; I don't like roller coasters, I don't like to drive fast, and heights make me nervous. But losing someone I love terrifies me more than any of those trivial fears, and the minute that it happens, my world will end. There will be no brimstone, boiling seas, or vicious earthquakes. Everything will go out with a whimper, maybe a sob - but no bang.
Yet I refuse to be depressed about what that harsh little voice is whispering to me for the rest of my life. Damn inevitability, it's not like I can stop it anyway. Let it whimper, it's a bit more peaceful than a bang at any rate. Instead, I will remember the words of a good doctor who had a way with rhymes, "Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened."
And so I shall. And when the world ends, when the metaphorical brimstone is falling and the figurative mountains are crumbling, I'll put on my best smile, because the road goes ever on and on.
Thanks so much for reading, even if you don't review - it means a lot!