For Ken


A year ago today, my grandfather fell suddenly and seriously ill. On June 3rd, he passed away. I debated whether or not I would write anything; a lot of you were there when it happened and it is something that is still very painful to me. Ultimately, I decided I’d observe the 3rd quietly, but I also decided I really wanted to tell you about the man who had such a profound impact on my life.

So here is a story:

When I was five, I ran away from home. I was mad at my parents because they wanted me to clean my room. I was not going to do it. I mean, I wasn’t just not going to do it–I was NOT!!!! going to do it. The whole idea was repugnant to me. In fact, Not Cleaning My Room was probably the first thing in my life I felt truly passionate about. Maybe it was even my first cause.

(I would then become a child who would go on to watch PG-13 movies well before I was thirteen and fake sick on multiple occassions so I wouldn’t have to go to school. I often trace the moment it all went wrong back to that time my parents tried to assert their authority over me and I resisted and they never tried again. And now you know how I came to drop out of school and marry a James Dean type who never washed his hair but sparkled and who I would later go on to divorce, but anyway.)

I grabbed my favourite teddybear (essential equipment for my new life on the streets!) and crept out of the house. I made a clean break and I didn’t look back, not even once. Halfway down the street, I was feeling pretty great. By the time I hit the stop sign at the corner, I was terrified and still just a little too proud to go back. I did what any reasonable five-year-old would do.

I started to cry.

And then a familiar car eased its way around the corner and came to a stop in front of me. The driver’s side window rolled down. My grandfather. No one had yet realized my absence or alerted the neighbourhood, he was just there–as he would always be there for me–and he made sure I got home.

Here is another story:

I spent every day after school at my grandparents house. Slept over there on the weekends. Spent close to entire summer vacations there. There was no place I would’ve rather been than in that house across the river, with them. But it was a bitter bone of contention with one of my childhood friends, who gave me an ultimatum when we were something like nine-years-old.

“You spend too much time at your grandparents house,” she told me. “It’s either me or them.”

I told her it was nice knowing her.

My grandfather was one of the most loving, warm, gentle and kind-hearted men I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. He was a spirited man, firm in his beliefs and his politics. He was a generous man. If there was something within his ability to give, he would give it to you. From the mints in his pocket to the piano he insisted I have when the songs I was learning to play became bigger than the keyboard I was playing them on. He never asked for much himself.

He valued his family more than anything and took great comfort in their closeness and their well-being. Being a part of his family was knowing you were loved, that you were important to someone, and that things wouldn’t be the same without you there. To be honest, I can’t believe I ever got used to that feeling, that I ever let myself get used to that feeling and didn’t marvel at it every single day.

Which is something I do now.

I miss him.