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Grandpas picture

By Michael Sitzman

Section: Arts

November 4, 2005

“So say goodbye;

its Independence Day
Its Independence Day;

little boys must run away.
And just say goodbye;

its Independence Day
All men must make their way, come Independence Day.”

Bruce Springsteen

I. Through Memorys Haze

In Mr. Arnolds kindergarten art class we created pictures one day with a new technique. We drew in crayon, then painted over it in solid color. The paint covered the bare spots but ran off the crayons marks so the drawing showed through — a beautiful effect. I painted a house with an evergreen tree and clouds, in a childs typical style, and chose a deep, bright blue to cover it. I liked my picture. My mom did too. She often displayed my schoolwork on the kitchen icebox. Not this one…

I want you to give it to Grandpa Robbie. I never knew why she chose that particular picture or made me give it to him. I protested, but it was no use. Sure, I loved my grandfather. But I was five, and, well, I still didnt understand sharing.

Having given up my picture, I had to have a new one. So I made another, this time with orange paint. It wasnt the same. Like the lesson in sharing, it would also take years to learn that something, or someone, of value cannot be replaced.

Grandpa died seven years ago.

II. Long, Hot Summer

Hi, its Michael! … Fine, and you? Is Dad there? Hi! … Oh, not much this week;

same old job-search. Anyway, I called to say I just received your gifts, and to say thanks so much. Things have been bad lately, and that brightened up the day. … Whoa, Mom, wait;

I didnt know it was a watch! My fault. I said I got the gifts, but I didnt say Id opened them;

I was planning to wait until my birthday … No problem, its all good. But since youve told me, Ill open it now. (As for the other, I think Ill wait til my birthday.) Ill get it;

be right back…

Hi, Im back. Trying to open it, but Qimmeqs jumping on me;

thinks its for him. Here, Qimmeq, chew on the wrapping. … Whoa, its beautiful! What a nice-looking watch;

thank-you so much! … What? Oh yeah, that: Well, its been a rough day. Usual blues, you know. … Yes, for the last few days, I guess;

just comes and goes. Hey, how would you feel if you were me? Nine months unemployed and no prospects here in Washington. The future wasnt supposed to be like this;

Im, like, not the man I hoped Id be. Heck, Ill pull through, no worries. … The rest of the day? Dont know;

honestly, Im still not dressed. Takes all my energy just to get out of bed sometimes, and once Im ready, I just want to lie down again. … I know youre worried, but its all good;

Ill just keep looking for work. Man, what a year. Hey, gotta go. … O.K., I love you too. Miss you! Thanks again for the wonderful watch! … OK, you too. Bye.

III. 29 June

Qimmeq, get down! Chew on the giftwrap;

let me open it. Silly Oh my God. My God, no way. I cant believe it…

IV. The Circle Be Unbroken

Hello? … Hi! … (Sweet! Theyre singing you-know-what;

Qimmeq, listen! Hey, get down. NO! Qimmeq! Stop! Crazy dog.) … Oh, thank-you! That was nice. Guess what: I put the phone to Qimmeqs ear and he got all excited;

understands Happy Birthday by the tune! Now he thinks hes getting a bone. … Did I what? … Yes, I opened that one this morning;

it was hard waiting three weeks! What a wonderful surprise! Never knew youd kept it. … Yes, I love it! … Havent decided where, but I can always find a place to hang a picture. And the blue frame matches the paint! It will always remind me of Grandpa. What can I say? Thank you so much. … Where? OK, then Ill let you get ready. Enjoy the show;

thanks for calling. Say, Im feeling better lately … Love you too. Bye.

V. Regret

The 4th of July fell five days after my birthday. It does every year. With each year, my country gets older and so do I. Independence, for a man or for a nation, demands sacrifice. Some freedom is gained, but responsibility is likewise. To a child, life is timeless and, though not as pleasant as we like to think, has that simplicity of a paint-and-crayon world. To a man, time is a demon heard in the ticking of his stylish watch that counts the days before the bill is due or the remaining unemployment checks.

What becomes of the hearts landscape? Where does hope itself go? Somewhere, between the picture and the watch, a boy grows up, and that childs sweet, painted world fades to distant dream, hanging on a wall in an apartment for which the rent must be paid by the first of the month. Behind glass, it lingers there, just visible, ever-dimming through memorys haze, while the grown mans watch marks times profane and relentless passage.

I have my picture back now. Id rather have Grandpa — and the way things used to be.

horseradish

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