We finally got the key to the attic door. It opens to reveal a rough-hewn stairway that winds around to some storage space in the top of our house. That key opening that door is what initially sent me into my closet. All I needed to do was go through a few storage bins to make sure they could sit in the attic for the next few months. I threw out a broken picture frame in one, and decided to leave some artifacts from the last English class I taught in another. That's when I saw my childhood stamp collection; not the book, that's still packed somewhere, but a box from a now defunct department store that my mom gave me when I was 10. Inside the box were a Band-Aid tin and an empty Marlboro flip-top box, (both good for storing loose stamps, lots of small envelopes with collectable postage and even more torn off corners containing stamps mostly from Mexico and Japan, that my dad used to bring me from work. He commuted with a man originally from Mexico and worked for Sony. My stamp book was full for those two countries.
That's when I found it. Inside a plain white letter-size envelope was a small neatly folded piece of paper. The writing in pencil was unmistakable--Grandpa. He sent me an uncanceled stamp commemorating the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley. Probably got it at the Post Office in New York where he lived and decided tear off one of the sky blue beauties to send to his grandson in Southern California. With the stamp, came a note. On one side of the paper it read: SPECIAL
STEMP TO BRUCE
Grandpa wrote in English as he spoke it. Having immigrated from Eastern Europe in the 1880s as a young man, English was not his first language. On the other side of the paper, in his trademark thick pencil he wrote:
SUN 5/8 1960 11 pm
RECEIVED YOUR LETTER
AND GLAD TO HEAR FROM
YOU KEEP YOUR SELF
IN GOOD SHAEP CLEAN
AND HELTE IS THE MORST
IMPORTIN IN LIFF I HOPE
YOU MAEK A GRAET
SUCSES IN YOUR LIFF
LOVE AND KISESS
I only saw him in person twice. Though he live to be 91, by the time I was old enough to travel on my own he was gone. Comes with the territory of having older parents than most. But at least I knew him. He was the only grandparent I ever got to meet. Our first visit happened when I was only about 4 years old. A few snapshots of us together remain. But at 14, he came for a visit and stayed about a month. We shared my bedroom, (really a small den) and bonded. Indelible memories. Grandpa kept a small flask of brandy in the kitchen cabinet. It was really a glass Good Seasons salad dressing carafe. I loved when he cut my fingernails and toenails and used a dab of brandy as an antiseptic. He taught me to play Gin Rummy. Once a tailor, he always carried around the blue chalk for marking things. He went on long walks, really long walks. He'd walk to a shopping center we always took the bus to, and back. In the daytime, when I was at school, Grandpa would often go to Santa Anita, by bus of course. I'm convinced I get my love of thoroughbreds from him. And when he left, and returned to New York, my sister and I found that we both had bank accounts. Grandpa could pick a few winners too.
When I look at his letter to me now, I see his wonderful face. I see him wearing a gray wolly sweater and khaki work pants, his pockets full of small pen knives, blue chalk, and a wooden stub of a carpenter's pencil; always the pencil.
Grandpa's letter told me about the importance of health and being in good shape. he wished success for me. Never once did he mention wealth or money. I love that. I'm going to answer him now. Grandpa, I'm going to say, it's been a good life thus far. I've made a few mistakes and regret a couple of things along the way, but I've learned that the meaningful stuff really is in the transitions. Enough of the philosophy. You made an impact on me that lasts to this day. I plan to make it to my 90s too. Oh yeah, one more thing. If there is any way it could be arranged, I'd love to go to the track with you. You could show me your methods and secrets, and I'd gladly show you mine. I'd really like that. But know this, every time I go I take you with me.