|I'm the middle-sized one in the wheelbarrow|
I just couldn’t stop smiling. It was finally about to happen: ten days in Paris with my husband! We’d been married for just six months, but years of dreaming, talking, saving, and planning had finally brought us to that moment in the San Francisco airport. I turned to my grandfather, who had driven us there to see us off.
“Bye, Granddad!” I said, kissing his grooved cheek. “I love you! Thanks for the ride!”
But he pulled back and put his hands on my shoulders, his face very serious. “Wait,” he said, “I just have one thing I want to tell you, so listen carefully.”
“Something bad is going to happen on this trip, I guarantee it.” Seeing the fear that must have flickered across my face, he added, “I don’t know, maybe your bags will get lost or you’ll miss a train. But remember,” he took a deep breath, and spoke very deliberately, “no matter what happens, when it’s all over, you’ll have a good story to tell.”
Then his face broke into the warm smile I loved, and his blue eyes twinkled behind thick glasses. He squeezed my shoulders. “I love you too. Now go have fun!”
My smile returned, and I said, “Got it!” as I walked, hand in my Matt’s, toward our gate. I turned around one last time and waved. “Au revoir!” Granddad stood there with a smile, waving back.
There was a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach as the plane took off and Granddad’s words lingered. What would go wrong? But as soon as we got to Paris, all my nervousness disappeared. Everything seemed perfect. Sure, we got a little lost in the Louvre, but all of it – sunset at the Eiffel Tower, warm baguettes and cheese, intriguing gardens behind wrought iron gates, and cozy cafes – was like a happy dream.
Until the midnight phone call. It was my mom, and her voice sounded tense and restrained as she said the words. “Granddad had a heart attack.”
I was confused. People survived heart attacks all the time. Why was she calling me at midnight to tell me this? “Oh… But he’s okay now, right?”
I could hear a pause, and her voice was thick as she said, “No, sweetheart. He died.”
The return trip was a blur. One of my closest friends, my mentor, was gone. But as I listened to the countless stories at his funeral – about times when almost everything had gone wrong – and the laughter that fairly shook the walls of the crowded church, I began to understand his last words to me.
So Granddad, as I write this, fifteen years after the last day I saw your smile, I hope you know just how grateful I am for your benediction. The days since that one have been filled with countless journeys. We’ve been to Thailand, Bangladesh, Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, England, and Portugal, as well as most of the continental United States. We’ve lived in Spain for three years and went back to Paris, this time with two young daughters who took pony rides around the Eiffel Tower. And then we added two more kids to our brood. We’ve had moments of intense frustration, or heartache and despair, and learned to smile – even laugh! – in spite of it.
Every day I live gives me a chance to learn more about what you said. I’m working on it slowly and steadily. When we see each other again, you’d better be ready to listen. Because I'm going to have some good stories for you!