My grandpa and I share a birthday. We were born on the 14th of January, sixty-two years apart.
My grandpa managed to be one of those very few people who somehow exist as heroes and gods in the part of my head or heart that tells me stories about the way I wish the world would be. He was an icon of my personal mythologies, but also a man who sat at the kitchen table and read the paper every single morning, comforting and vivid in his ordinariness.
A little more than a week ago, he died.
This birthday is a lonely one. It is, for the first time in my life, singular.
I spoke at the funeral. It was the hardest piece of reading that I've ever done. I stood there, alone, and a thousand moments, each of them sharper and more heartbreaking than I imagined possible, flew at me, one after another.
I wish that you could have met him. He was an astonishingly good man, and I loved him.
A few years ago, my sister and I asked Grandpa Megs to tell us about an adventure.
He said: “No need.”
We asked him again, and he asked why we wanted to hear things like that.
Because, Grandpa, we want to know something only you can tell us.
“Like what?” he said.
Like an adventure.
He didn’t say very much at first, just rubbed at his hands and nodded his head.
“Well,” he said. “There was a boat. We built it out of totong. We were really young and we took it down the river.”
We imagined that, my sister and I: the river sliding through Anahola, the little boat made out of metal scrap, and the magnificent captain, our own Grandpa Megs, but so, so young.
“Those were good times,” he told us. “On the river, you know, with friends.”
Megumu Hamamura—Megs—my grandpa—was a man who I cannot imagine as anything other than himself. If we could travel in time, we would recognize him immediately—man or boy, dad or grandpa, husband or brother or uncle or friend—as our very own Megs.
He once told me about a trip he took, about the way gutters smell in Morocco, and how it feels to look at the Rock of Gibraltar from the deck of a ship on the Mediterranean Sea. He told me about hijacking the little carts that transport sugar cane, and joy riding them down the hills of plantations. He told me about how movies used to be, when he rode to them in pick up trucks, and watched the cowboys and outlaws projected on the side of a tent, all for a few cents. He told me about the proper way to make a tin can.
These are not my memories. I never hurtled through a cane field, or strung wire through a house, and my memories are of Grandpa, telling me the stories of his. But maybe you were there. Maybe some of these memories are yours. If you are so lucky, I want you to examine them closely. They are an endangered species now, the last of something wonderful, and we should keep them for as long as we can.
My Grandpa Megs wears a navy blue worksuit. He parts his hair with a silver comb, and vanishes cigarettes inside his palms. He stretches out on the floor, and crosses his legs at the ankle, or sits in the yard in front of a fire, talking to his dog, or a cat, or me. He smells like brillantine… like smoke, coffee, and well-worn clothes. He can fix anything. He can wait patiently, forever. He is a man of character, in that old-fashioned and rare sense of stubborn goodness. He is kind and curious, graceful with competence, and loves so steadily and so deeply that there’s not much that he needs to say. He takes me riding, for beaches and ice creams, and he reads all the signs in every museum we go to.
“Incredible,” he says. “All of these things. Amazing, no? The way they all are.”
I’m sure you recognize him. I’m sure that if you could run into him, my Grandpa Megs, you would know him from last week, last year, or all the time you had in his company.
If he were here, now, I’m sure he would say: “Enough, already.”
He didn’t need so many words to say the things that he meant.
But since this is a day, the first day, when we can all start to say goodbye together, I think he would like it if we just remembered. Tell yourself the stories of the way you knew him best. Make your life a useful one. And say the things we all said to him, many, many times:
“You’ve got yourself a good life, Megs.”
“I love you.”