My grandfather loved his binoculars.
He would sit for hours on the front lawn, watching the grass, planes, birds—anything he could see through those lenses. He’d pass the binoculars to me at six years old, and I was in awe of this magnified world.
Commonplace existence foraged with observation and intention—this was my grandfather’s method. He was always curious, and his curiosity made me curious too. He had a love of nature, music, all things lively, and he engaged and colored my young world with it all. There were many days we strolled the neighborhood park collecting pine cones, admiring their scaly rhythm in silence. He acknowledged the beauty in everything.
When the Alzheimer’s staked its claim dissipating parts of his mind from me, fragments of his memory remained fastened like the grip of his over-sized hand as he spun me through childhood in an endless dance on the worn brown carpet of my grandparents living room.
When he forgot my name and no longer called me Nikki, he retrieved that I was “the dancer,” and this became the name my grandfather called me until his final days. This simple and steadfast title etched itself into my young heart, for I knew at that moment it was a designation I was to always uphold. The rhythmic tapping of his perfectly white shoes, the rug burn on the balls of my feet and the light beaming from his face as we sang and danced together to The Sound of Music soundtrack—these memories are still so prominent.
There was an afternoon when I was a little girl, leaping ahead and practicing my ballet jete along the sidewalk while my grandfather trailed behind. I remember the fall, my blood soaked knee and the tears as I looked up at my grandfather, seeking solace.
Reaching out his hand, smiling, he said, “Get up and dance the pain off until it reaches the ground where you fell.”
I’ve never forgotten these words.
This was the spirit of my grandfather—light, direct and regal in his stride, just like the birds he’d admire through his binoculars.
As a child, I had always secretly wished he was my father, and so I’d pretend. I wanted to take his love, preserving and patching it like paper-maché over the hollowness that my own father inflicted. I wanted to only account the purity and comfort of his love. He was my patriarch. The impending notion that life would one day call him back was expected, and at 14 he left me as a young woman, with the knowledge of what a truly genuine, loving and good man encompasses.
When I think of heaven, I think of being reunited with the absolute comfort and beauty of life that was experienced under the wing of my grandfather. I wish his guidance could have carried me into adulthood, but yet—I constantly feel his presence, and his words singing to me:
“Get up and dance the pain off until it reaches the ground where you fell.“
And thus, this has become my life elixir.
If there is one angel above looking out for me, it is undoubtedly my grandfather.
Author: Nicolle Rose Barrett
Apprentice Editor: Lindsay Carricarte/Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Photo: Author’s own.