“Hey, Grandpa. What is that box over there?”
“You mean that old trunk? That’s all the memories from Grandpa’s life.”
“Can we open it?”
“Not today, Pooh Bear.”
“One day, Pooh Bear. One day.”
_ _ _ _ _
James Hegberg stood in the cluttered basement of his Grandpa’s house in a black suit with a white shirt and white carnation on the lapel. It was one day.
A six-year-old doesn’t think one day will ever come. Hell, a six-year-old doesn’t realize that one day means the day Grandpa is gone. A 34 year-old-man with a wife and a six-year-old of his own knows what one day means. But, it doesn’t make it any easier knowing. Grandpa loved him without reserve, without condition. He expected nothing of James but to do his best at being James. But, expectations or not, James still made him two promises. The first was on his 25th birthday when Grandpa bailed him out of jail for drunken disorderly. He promised that he would stop drinking. And then on the one year passing of Grandma, James pledged to Grandpa that he wouldn’t die alone. Grandma Grandpa hadn’t handled Grandma dying very well. He felt alone for the first time since he married Grandma. Grandpa knew no other life than Grandma. He wasn’t alone, but he was. And, Grandpa’s only fear was to die alone.
He died alone.
James’s parents moved to San Diego when James graduated from college. They sold their family printing business and thought having a place on the west coast would be helpful for the family to visit. But James stayed to be close to Grandpa. He insisted Grandpa move in with him and Cheryl, but Grandpa refused. Grandpa didn’t want to be a burden. He wasn’t a burden, but James respected his independence. It couldn’t be easy without Grandma. Plus he was a man of the world, one who built his own house and spent years studying with the Taoist in Chengdu. He had touched The Great Pyramid and fought in Korea. Near the end, he couldn’t even do his laundry. Still, James respected his wishes. But he was trying to raise a family. And he couldn’t be there every minute of every day doing every load of laundry and preparing every meal. Not that Grandpa expected it. He was the one who told James to take a vacation.
So James packed up the family and headed to northern Wisconsin for the week. He set Grandpa up with a daily caretaker for the time he was gone and left for the serenity of the Northern Woods. He put the car in reverse, backed down the driveway, blinked, and then he was here, in the basement, with the black suit and white carnation, staring at the trunk he needed to one day open. Everything in between was less than a blur. Everything from the time he backed out of the driveway to the first shovel of dirt didn’t exist.
And now, there was just James and the trunk. For 28 years he wondered what was in the trunk. There could be gold bullion or a piece of The Great Pyramid. Maybe there was Harry Houdini’s handcuffs or a lion paw. There was so much about Grandpa’s life that James didn’t know, so much of it, Grandpa told him he would understand one day. As close as they were, the trunk made Grandpa an incredible mystery. And now James was going to unlock the mystery.
To his knees, he dropped. James put his elbows on top of the trunk and his hands together in prayer. He looked to the sky and thought of Grandpa. Tears cascaded down his cheeks. It was the first time he let himself cry since getting the phone call from the hospital. He didn’t even cry at the funeral.
“I miss you Pop Pop. I’m so sorry I let you down. So so sorry.”
James took a breath. He sighed. He snapped open the latches of the trunk, opened the lid, and for the first time, looked inside. And inside there was only an envelope that said, “To James.”
He reached for it.
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