|| Note: This is a post for my Opa, whom I’ve written about many times in the past. (See The pitfalls of downhill roller skating or While my Opa was sleeping, or Dies ist Opa.) He died Jan. 6 after suffering for several years with Alzheimer’s disease. He was a jovial, outgoing sprite of a man whom most people describe as a character. He spent as much time creating life stories as he did telling them. Even at his foggiest, he could captivate a small audience, albeit by then most of his tales were wildly embellished or completely untrue. When it became clear that his star in this world was fading, I began the subconscious process of squirreling away memories — both significant and slight. The one you’re about to read falls under the second category. I’m not sure why it floated to the surface. Memories are like dreams sometimes. When they roll in you must abide. ||
A memory: I’m seven, maybe eight years old. I’m holding a coffee can that has two holes punched through the tin. An old shoelace is knotted through each hole to form a kind of coffee can necklace. It’s hot out. July, maybe. I’m in Upstate New York, wearing purple jelly sandals and a tank top. My arms are browning under the midday sun. My tongue is stained with blueberries.
I hand the coffee can to Opa.
I loop it around his neck like I’m crowning him with a gold medal after a long race. It dangles against his chest like a clumsy locket. Inside the can is motor oil, or at least I think it’s motor oil. It’s thick and black and Opa won’t let me touch it.
“Dees is dirty stuff,” he says, as he plucks a beetle from a raspberry bush and drops it into the can.
I trail closely behind him. My sisters too. The air smells like grass and manure. The breeze is subtle, but my hair is fine and flies away easily. We’re in my Oma’s garden, a large unshaded plot divided into neat rows of cucumbers, zucchinis, tomatoes and berries. We’re inching our way through bushes, my sisters and I, our shadows following Opa’s shadow, our legs burning from thorn pricks.