As my grandfather speaks, I look at his face. I really look at his face, as if this is the first time I am noticing him. His skin is clearer than last time, smooth and moisturized. I can see white scars on his nosetip and cheeks from pockets of skin cancer that were removed last year. He just got his hair cut today so his comb-over is a little too short, not quite meeting the hair that is left above his right ear. Part of the comb-over falls toward the back of his head rather than across the top. He looks clean. He also looks like a stranger and I realize how funny it is to see someone everyday but not notice these things.
He is telling me about the hardest part of being married for 68 years, though his story is not explicitly related to his relationship to his wife. He talks about his son’s struggles and the cost it has taken on his son’s health. He is saying that it is devastating to be helpless as a parent, especially as he continues to age, seeing that his son’s health never improves — it only keeps taking parts of his body away, first requiring that one toe be amputated, all toes quickly following suit, now it seems like a foot must go.
It’s the first time that I notice how his cheeks sag, how deep his frown wrinkles are, and the degree to which his lips arch in a deep, practiced frown. They arch so severely that they remind me of the Gateway Arch in St Louis. His eyes are looking at me over the large lenses of his glasses, I can see the indents from the pads on either side of his nose, indicating how far down his glasses have slid in the past couple of minutes.
It’s then that I notice his pupils are in the shape of tear drops. Two big, black tear drops, one in each eye, right in the middle of small, light-light-blue iris.
I realize that my my vision is starting to blur as my own tears begin to surface and I can no longer look at him. I listen while stirring and watching the swirls of cream mix into my coffee cup. I watch my Grandmom watching him. I can almost trace the wrinkles in her face like a maze though I don’t know what the maze leads to. I examine everything on the table very closely; the embroidery on the placements, the stain on the table and where it is wearing away, the delicate handle of my coffee cup. I listen to the steady cadence of my grandfather’s voice. I am impressed when he becomes aware of how well others care for his wife and his son. He surprises me by admitting that he is not able to take care of his wife and son like others can. Sixty eight years of marriage. That’s a long time to know someone and take care of them. The stubborn man I knew that built this whole family just confessed that he can’t do something. That old dog learned a new trick. Then my grandmother says something and he laughs.
I look at his face once more and find that he looks so much like another young family member, one of his 8 grandchildren. They have nearly the same laughing face.
I am smiling, exhaling through my open grin. Around the table, everyone else is smiling, too.