I was shopping for nail polish at a beauty supply store, when I found out that my grandfather was missing. It was six years ago in July.
My mom called and told me that no one could find my grandfather. I assumed he would return home soon. I assumed he took an “Alzheimer’s trip,” a quick getaway that people with Alzheimer’s disease sometimes made. My great-grandfather, on my father’s side, also had Alzheimer’s and sometimes went on unsupervised walks around his neighborhood. His trips scared the crap out of my family, but he always returned home in one piece. I assumed my grandfather would return home too.
At that time, I didn’t take into consideration that my great-grandparents lived in the hood, where people knew who their neighbors were. When my great-grandfather went wandering around Dixwell Avenue, people knew to return Mr. Jenkins back home. My grandfather, on the other hand, lived in the suburbs in Killeen, Texas with my aunt and her husband. No one else from my family lived in Killeen or in Texas to my knowledge. So when my grandfather went missing, his neighbors didn’t notice until they smelled his body decomposing behind their homes…at least that’s what an article said.
I never visited my grandfather in Texas. I didn’t want to deal with my aunt. I never really thought too highly of her. She and my mom never got along, and I never really thought it was important to have a relationship with her. One of my first memories of her was my mom wrestling her when I was 4 or 5-years-old because she hit me in the head with a door when she opened it.
For as long as I can I remember, my aunt lived with or right around the corner from my grandfather. When they lived in Connecticut, my grandfather took me to dance school on a particular day of the week. Let’s say it was Mondays. Well one Monday he couldn’t do it, so he asked my aunt if she could take me as a favor for him. She never showed up, and I missed class.
The same thing happened years later, after my grandfather moved to Indianapolis. A friend and I went to visit him while he was living there. He asked my aunt to show us around the city – like take us to a mall or something. My grandfather figured that since she was younger than he was and got around more, that she might know good places for us to go. Again, she was a no-show.
My aunt never really showed interest in me, and I was never really interested in her. I was okay with that. My aunt wasn’t attached to me or my mother, but she was completely attached to my grandfather. Wherever he moved, she moved. It seemed to work for them.
My grandfather, a Mississippi native, spent decades in Connecticut, where my mom and aunt were raised. My grandmother, his first wife, died a year or two before I was born. My grandfather remarried and had a third daughter, when I was around 6 or 7-years-old. I really got a kick out of having an aunt that was a toddler. My grandfather and my miniature aunt’s mother eventually divorced. Several years later he retired and moved to Indianapolis where some of his brothers and sisters and their children lived.
I was around 11-years-old when my grandfather moved to Indianapolis. I was shocked when the moving trucks actually came to take his stuff. Grandfather was like my third parent. When I last saw him at my wedding in 2009, he bragged to everyone saying, “I raised Stacy.” And he did. No one could ever take that from him.
Yes, I called him “Grandfather.” When I was a baby, people always mentioned him to me as “your grandfather,” and I just kept calling him that.
Grandfather took me to elementary school every morning. After my mom or dad dropped me off to his house, Grandfather would ask me what I wanted to eat for breakfast.
I said “pancakes” almost every day for a year straight. And he made me pancakes. Every. Single. Morning. One day he asked, and I just couldn’t stomach the idea of eating one more pancake. From then on, he made me scrambled eggs with cheese and toast and whatever flavor of jelly I wanted. He had a bunch of different flavors. When I didn’t want to eat eggs and toast anymore, he made me dinner for breakfast, and I would go to school smelling like a soul food restaurant.
Grandfather made amazing pound cakes from scratch. I remember him trying to make me a birthday cake in one of those aluminum pans, in the shape of the “Strawberry Shortcake,” the cartoon character, using his pound cake recipe. It was the heaviest cake ever. There was no point in trying to put frosting on that thing. It was already so dense.
Grandfather took me to church with him on Sundays. He was a preacher and even a pastor before I was born. He loved to show off his suits, and shoes, and hats, and gold rings and necklaces. I remember him kicking his foot up from behind the podium one Sunday so that everyone could see his shoe before he got into the sermon. Grandfather also wore a very strong, manly cologne. I liked watching him take it out of his armoire. Grandfather was fancy to me. He had expensive taste, and if he went to a store and picked out something that he thought was too expensive, he would find something wrong with it – a pulled thread, a snag, anything – so he wouldn’t feel pressured to buy it.
Grandfather and I also took piano lessons together. He was so proud that I was moving so far ahead of him in the lesson book. We practiced together at his house on his piano. I would show him the right notes to play when his fingers fumbled on the keys.
I didn’t realize how much his moving to Indianapolis upset me until just a few months ago, 20 years after the fact. I visited him a couple times when he was living in Indianapolis. I never went to Texas. I didn’t want to have to go through my aunt to see him.
To this day, I don’t understand how my aunt and her husband lost my grandfather, a 6-foot, 79-year-old man, with a rumbling voice. I was told that my aunt went to church one Sunday and decided to leave him at home alone. When she got back home, he was gone. I think by the time my mom called me, when I was shopping for nail polish, Grandfather had been missing for a few days. My mom went down to Texas to help look for him and to bring him back to Connecticut, but she came back empty-handed. They searched for him for two weeks.
I never knew what to make of this situation. If the story was true about my aunt leaving my grandfather in the house alone, the angry and hurt parts of me felt like she should have been charged with something like involuntary manslaughter, when a death occurs as a result of someone’s careless behavior. Why take on the responsibility of caring for someone with an illness if that’s not what she wanted to do? I don’t know exactly what happened that led to Grandfather’s death. I mean, I know it’s wrong to pin a death on someone without having all the facts, but damn lady, “you had one job,” as they say in the memes.
There was also a part of me that felt like I could never say too much about the incident because I never went to visit him in Texas. Maybe had I gone down there I would have known that he was in danger.
What bothered me most about Grandfather’s death was that it was not a reflection of the life that he lived. He died alone, in some stranger’s yard, mysteriously, under a bush. Old men who’ve made pancakes for their granddaughters and taken piano lessons with them shouldn’t die that way. Grandfather shouldn’t have died that way.
The last time I saw my grandfather was at my wedding, seven years ago. During that time, my family members were trying to convince him to move back to Connecticut because there were more of us here to spend time with him. I wish he would have moved back because I never saw him again after that.