I almost missed it, a handful of mail already in my hand, something made me look. There it was, a buff colored envelope, like the kind of thing you’d expect an invitation to a child’s birthday might come in. I lifted it gently, then closed the mail box and went inside, the screen door floating to a close behind me. I set the mail down, holding on to the smaller envelope. The hand was familiar, at once willowy and crispy, the ink was blue and in the corner was a large stamp bearing an intricate heart.
The postmark, with its wavy line and curving YAKIMA WA brought back a tide of emotions. So much history, bittersweet memories of home. I touched the charcoal circle and imagined the mailbox where this little envelope’s journey has begun. An ivy wrapped, wrought iron railing upon a stone stoop, thick, lush grass, a carpet beneath robust fruit trees with their quirky combination of gnarly trunks and delicate leaves. I imagined that I felt the imprint of the stone on my bare legs, prickly and coarse, warm from the day’s sun. I remembered sitting and listening to the sounds of the neighborhood as I traveled back to this far away retreat of mine.
The envelope felt weighty, and I ran through events in my mind:
My birthday? Nearly a month past.
Briar’s birthday? Not for another month yet.
Just because? Didn’t feel right.
I ran my finger under the flap and slipped the card out. It bore a delicate, sun-faded illustration, a girl, head propped up on books, clutching an open book, the pages close to her face as if to prevent interruption. Behind her were stacks of books and a bookshelf beyond with still more books, all cast shadows throughout the room. The girl’s hair was haphazardly pulled back, auburn tendrils fanned around her face, which was set in concentration, oblivious to the world around. Her knees knocked together and her skirt puddled at her sides, white bobby socks sagging above blue Mary Janes. The foreground was filled with characters from Alice in Wonderland: Alice, the mad hatter, the Queen of Hearts and more.
Inside the card:
With all love
Who loved you
beyond all reason
and without end.
I closed the card, not quickly, but emphatically. Suddenly the writing meant something else, my name on the front of the envelope, Grandpa’s on the card. Yesterday was five months from the day we flew to California, the first time I visited Claremont not to see my grandpa. Gone. I didn’t believe it then, and I’ve not believed it since.
I still find him, in a puffy white cloud on perfect summer days, in a Dora bowl of Paremsan goldfish, and in the pages of his books. And now, holding this envelope, I find the threat of losing him.
The color that I had thought was buff, wasn’t. It was the color of aging pages, the color of the papery skin on his forearms. He’d lift his arm and clutch mine as I leaned into kiss him. His smell was always the same, and it haunts me. So do his whiskers, white, golden and auburn, brushing against my face, making a swishing sound as he stroked his chin in thought.
I turned the card over.
“And what is the use
of a book,”
“without pictures or
-Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865
For a moment the words seemed to blur and I wondered, What is the use of a world, without Grandpa?
I held the envelope and card, rubbing my thumb along the paper, uncoated and smooth, a heavy stock. I brought it to my face to breathe in the scent, expecting Grandpa and finding plain, old paper. Plain, old world.
He would want me happy, but more importantly, he would be happy. Easy to cry, easier to delight, he lived every single moment with an intensity I’ve only ever seen again in my girls.
The card shifted in my hand and I looked at the girl, considering his legacy of books and words, of living and loving with intensity. I imagined the way he would respond if he were here today, if I said, “Grandpa, it’s Amandita. I was just watching Briar and Avery and I had to call you. We walked your walk today, from porch to corner. The girls were picking clovers and squealing at passing butterflies. They were literally bubbling over with joy at just being alive. They reminded me of you, making it feel like instead of 3,000 miles away, you were here, not three feet from us.”
He’d laugh and then say, “Hold the clovers, I’ll be right over.”
Anytime Grandpa, anytime. We’ll be here, I promise.