His skin kept glowing till the last sloth of his life. He involuntarily took care of his pores with cold-pressed, organic, extra-virgin olive oil. The oil from the trees he planted and grow, from the fruit of olives he picked. A lanky man reclining on damp grass, rasping the terrain with old fingers for olives, wrinkled. You could see on his face that the ageing had not affected him much.
What's the best way to remember the beloved ones who are not more? What's the one, especially for a disgruntled relative when the 'other' has left us too soon and sentimental glitches are not healed? We don't have mummies, but in my endeavours to see him, he usually wears a brown-chestnut flat cap. To bring him back now, he dresses in rugged velvet trousers and a beige short sleeve shirt.
My great-grandfather as a mummy would have needed only few garments. I cannot picture him in a coat or in wool and pullover. He was a man of a benign sunny autumn or, to say the least, an exceptionally warm satisfying winter with the scent of mandarins ready to be groped from the trees, when the smell of oranges from dark green leaves is so astringent.
No doubt, harsh weather would have death brought premature. Can we imagine him in cold evenings, seating between fireplace and tv, hours and hours, imposing body who does not utter a word?
The good season? The nuisance of summer. The kids are out, remains of sweets and candies on cobblestones, an amenity for insects and flies. I can still see the big man dozing in front of the house, in the shadow of the mandarin tree and the most enduring flies vexing him. Plus the inconvenience that ice cream in the sultriness of August gave him cough - the coughing response affects certain people accelerating the production of mucus. Parched throat, no words.
My great-grandfather didn't have loquacity in him. No joviality, no big enthusiasm. He didn't give reckless pushes to little nephews on swings. He didn't pretentiously yell at the sky to make the hunting dogs howl. Just the rasping came to his voice in the last day and tormented my sensitivity that afternoon when he deceased. Wrongly seemed an act of disrespect, I took my cousin and we drove to the bar, while familyhood was at the vigil of the moribund. For too long the grating of the death spasms echoed in my internal organs, at that time when its were short of oxygen to breathe on.
Overall, my great-grandfather was a platitude of calm, a contended life which closes in a circle at 93 sprouting and withering of natural causes. In the arbre magique of my genealogy, the curious can find the early disappearance of both my grandfathers due to heart attack, but they were troubled souls. They had yearning and restlessness, they worked themselves into the ground and because it was too much to endure, wine and cigarettes accelerated their fall. Tendering the garden, and have his vegetables cooked for him was all great-grandfather aspired to. He was not receptive to stimulus coming from the environment so changes did not affect him. When something really changed, he showed total acceptance.
Nevertheless he's a mummy into my head now and the pigments of his skin are still intact and I blame the olive oil for it.
A fact is depicted on the walls on my memory, perturbing yet. Was it not at one of our family gatherings when everyone was present after work? Did it not happen around that manger where we overfed ourselves because 'when you eat you fight against death'? – that's according to my grandmother, who saw the second world war and food scarcity – We lived in the present.
I was rapacious, ingrate, fogged by an idea of prompt success because I resented my parents for all the material things I didn't get. They bared me of gifts and toys and my nemesis was fought at dinner. The quantity I ingested had to transcend all the diners.
The fact occurred with the great-grandfather in his last months, bovine, ruminating some fried broccoli. Chew and chew for long, sucking the green mush, keeping it long in his palate. The jaws involved much slow motion as he enjoyed not simply eating, but that feeling of activity and liveliness, even if just via mouth. Food processing lengthy, digestion postponed, extending the act of dining in fear of death. All seated around the table for dinner. I went to help myself with more servings of that peasant food, my father berated me for gluttony. I rated him very low, I blamed his ignorance for poverty, also he was irate, subjected to bursts of fury.
Insecurities grow on you and dress you down because your daring is subjugated by fear of volleys of rebukes coming from the Leviathan. The benevolence of purgatory was in my great grand-father, the imperturbable surface of a lake in the mountains. Though, the Leviathan was in the house and, father, unaware ,pushed my nature into unhealthy street racing with my emotions and continuous overtaking in society. It did happen that while I extended my greed on the dinner table to spite the Leviathan, he roared.
When the mantle of shame drops on you, after the spotlight has been cast on your sin in public, you retreat. That episode has stayed in me after my great grand-father passing. Some questioning followed. I didn't understand him fully because he was too similar to me. A seamless nature which likes promenades at dusk, the smell of scythed grass in the summer, content of getting the chance to trim vines near the house. What if we just despise the idea that we have to succeed ? What about the aridity in corporate jobs? What if mission statements are unreadable ? What if some of us are destined to be minimalist? We just want to mow our lawn and see the toddlers laugh. My great grand-father lives in me.