|Grandpa Jenks's hands|
Did your grandfather knot up with tears at the least occasion? Both my father and grandfather can dissolve in weeping at the slightest push by memory or nostalgia, especially during prayer. After graduation I moved in with my grandparents and great-aunt in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a seventeen-year-old with three octogenarians. I cringed inside when Grandpa Jenks prayed over beef roast and gravy, his tears catching his voice.
“As God holds us in the holl' of his hand.” He couldn't hear the harsh midwestern vowels of his accent, but I could, and spot the hypocrisy in his emotional faith. I felt trapped in their one-bathroom house, watching Keanu Reeves movies I blockbustered on the Jenks's card: good ones, too—Bill & Ted's and Point Break and My Own Private Idaho, Gus Van Zant's homoeroticism especially bewildering before the white birch of my father's childhood front lawn. At night I read Ayn Rand and Henrik Ibsen.
My cousins came over for Sunday dinner, and when he'd choke during his prayer--”We thank thee for our family gathered here together. Our children, grandchildren, all our loved ones. We thank thee”--when he'd melt, embarrassing all of us grandchildren with such an awkward silence that we squinched our eyes open to peer at him. I couldn't look at his face, at the age spots, the brylcreem-combed hair, only the grease-stained collar of his faded Dickies, till he gained control again.
Remembering the intensity of the emotions I felt then—when I was denying the existence of any emotion, thanks to Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand—Howard Roark rapes a woman in the very first chapter of Fountainhead, spoiler alert—bewilders. But now I knot up in tears at the least push, too, although maybe it's only when I'm weakened by hormones and winter that a melodramatic commercial or film or any honest sadness will make me catch with tears. The other day it was a short film, on the Academy Award collections of short films I've been Netflixing: Binta and the Great Idea. Watch it.
I am as weak as my forefathers. Or is it strength? But my archetypal Father is plagued by grief and loss. Jesus weeps above the city of Jerusalem.