There we sat, my grandfather and me, on a rusted and paint-chipped iron bench in the middle of the park we visited together frequently. No words had escaped our lips as we experienced one of our many comfortable silences. When I finally did speak, I had asked what he had been thinking about. I was curious about the far away look on his face, and knew he was lost in thought.
“Well, John, I was thinking about this park and its beauty; the wild roses by the entryway, all the different varieties of beautiful flowers in the beds, the fountain that everyone throws change into when they make a wish.” There was a hint of sadness in his voice now, “The little grove of birch trees down by the pond providing a cool place to sit on a hot day.” He indicated with a swing of his arm in the general location. “Martha, your grandmother, and I used to sit under them after church every Sunday and have a picnic. In fact, I got down on one knee and proposed to her on that very spot!” I could tell Gramps was reminiscing again. He was old and looked so frail now. I didn’t know if we would be making many more visits to our park.
That had been a week ago, and I couldn’t believe that he was gone now. I felt as though a part of me had died with him. No more will I hear his stories, or see the world as I had for so long. I felt my eyes begin to fill with tears, and tried to remember the park as Gramps had described it; but I couldn’t. Those images, like Gramps, were gone.
“Hey, Buddy.” A gruff male voice startled me out of my reverie. I had been so lost in thought that I hadn’t heard anyone approach. “You alright?”
“Uh, yeah.” I said and wiped my eyes.
“Where’s the old man I usually see you with? I sure get quite a chuckle out of him.” He said with a grin. It was the hot dog vendor that I had frequented during my visits with Gramps. “He always went on and on about this park and how beautiful it is. It sure takes a really good imagination to see beauty in this here dump.” He grimaced at what he saw.
The reality of my surroundings hit me hard, like a slap to the face that left a handprint. Through Gramps’ descriptions, I had always viewed the park as he had seen it; from a time when it had been in all its splendor and glory! Now, it stood in such contrast; stark and almost naked. The pond was littered with debris, and greenish-brown scum floated on top like congealed gravy. The flower beds were overrun with weeds that choked the life out of struggling seedlings, and dandelions ran freely over the brown, sun-scorched lawn. As well, his beloved grove of birches had been cut down.
Anger rose inside me, but quickly died away. Obviously this man didn’t know about Gramps, so I couldn’t fault him for that. “That old man was my grandfather, and I just came from his funeral. He talked about the park the way he had always remembered it.” I glanced up, and waited for his reaction to my next statement “Gramps had been blind for 50 years.”
The vendor’s mouth fell open. “I…ahhh...I’m…sorry. I didn’t know.” He stuttered, feeling stupid.
I continued with my explanation. “Gramps was a man of God, a Christian, most of his life. He always had hope for the day he would be with Jesus, because then he would be able to see again. He never lost that hope. He always talked about what the Bible says about being content in all situations. So, Gramps learned to be content with his blindness long ago. He saw the park through his memories, and that’s how I saw it too. It might be a dump now, but it wasn’t always like this. I always saw the beauty through his eyes.”
We sat there together in silence, the hot dog vendor and me. No words crossed our lips for several minutes. I looked over at this virtual stranger and asked, “So, what are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking that I could have used your grandfather’s sight so that I could see.” He hung his head low and sighed.
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