I watch the torrential rain, earning its adjective, rolling off the roofs, pushed by some serious wind, and I think of you. I’m standing on the front porch of my daughter’s house in Austin, Texas, but I bond with you, my Pacific Northwest family with our mutual wet weather. I feel your pain, worry about your roads, wonder how you’re making it through the end of a very wet September and more of the same on the way. I feel your pain, and hold you in my heart.
This is oxytocin, the nonapeptide produced by my pituitary, a neuromodulator that’s apparently in abundance here in Central Texas, at least in this household. Or so my daughter tells me, having done her research. “You’re becoming a grandpa,” she tells me, and she would know.
By the time you read this, I’m probably back among you, getting accustomed again to 50 degrees instead of 90. It’s a short trip, timed by luck and convenience to place me here shortly before my grandson arrived. I’m the family representative from the home office, here to lend what support I can on this momentous occasion, and as I watch my son-in-law bring my daughter food every three or four minutes, as she rests her hand on that swelling belly and raises her eyebrows at another mild contraction, I try to resist the urge to hug somebody. Any random Texan will do at this moment. It’s just biology. I’m becoming a grandpa. It’s sort of like turning into the Hulk, although mostly I just bake.
I can’t help thinking about this new role, particularly now while we wait. It’s definitely going to be different, although lately I’ve been thinking of it more as Dad Plus, like adding a leaf to the dining room table. Same function, slightly different situation. And it’s definitely time.
What struck me, though, and is on my mind mostly, has to do with this young life, and me. Imagining futures at this moment is fun but foolish, and I know from experience. What genetic gifts stream from my side of the equation – we can only hope he has decent eyesight – are pretty meager compared to all the other variables he’ll encounter, starting from the most important ones, his parents. Barring some move I don’t see in the immediate future, his relationship with me will be a little distant, hopefully a few times a year in person, and then maybe as a familiar face on the iPad or monitor, waving from the Pacific Northwest.
And here’s the throat-clutcher: He will be the last person to remember me.
With plenty of caveats: He could have siblings or cousins, sure. All sorts of situations are possible, including me living until I’m in triple digits, but just making an educated guess, based on the moment? He’s my biographer, my memory book, the conservator of my brief existence in this world, in this time. When he’s gone, for all intents and purposes so am I.
This is the way it’s supposed to be. Of course. Duh.
It’s compelling, though. I have no issues with being forgotten, just fascination. This child has a good statistical chance of living into the next century, a moment when I will have been dead and dust, probably, at least 50 years. He has an excellent chance of being the last person alive who touched me, talked with me, remembers how I moved and spoke in casual moments. And even if I have a slew of grandchildren while I still stay unshuffled off the coil, I suspect he’ll be the one. The one who remembers, and the last one, and then I’m done.
This cheers me today, even though we’re actually talking about The End Of Me. Enough me, I say (some readers say too). I’ve written millions of public words, mostly about the trivial details of my trivial life, a very contemporary expression, and that will probably never vanish. My descendants, if they want, will have a lot of material to work with if imagining another time and another man is on their minds. You’re welcome, kids. Have at it.
But that isn’t legacy, and never has been for humans. Around my house somewhere, in a box, are notes and letters from my grandparents. If I were to dig around, they’d be mildly interesting, and mostly just to remind me.
I remember our conversations, though. I remember their stories. I remember the ways they held a coffee cup, passed a plate, cooked breakfast. I remember their quirks, their faults, their habits, and their paths as they and I aged in our different times and stages. I remember how these older adults, unaware of oxytocin and other overdoses of Internet information, showered their grandchildren with love and affection. And I remember how each and every one of them laughed. I’m remembering that right now.
As I said, it cheers me, this idea of my not-yet grandson on the other side of a whole bunch of calendar pages. He’s ancient in a world always obsessed with youth, and he’s tied by time to another existence. He could tell you about this, about his childhood in the 2020s and reaching adulthood in the 30s, his successes and failures mid-century, his memories of events and politics and people, and with luck he can tell you about his grandfather.
“I remember his laugh,” he says, and my God that makes me smile today.