Water Stain

I am traveling back to Charlotte after a weekend spent in Houston. It was my high school 20-year reunion, an event I’ve been looking forward to for almost a year. After graduation, I left Houston almost immediately to be with my parents. The circumstances of my life in high school resulted in my living with my grandparents as a junior and senior. They were in their 70s at the time, and probably about as happy as a colonoscopy patient about hosting a teenager again. This teenager, specifically, was a bit of a know-it-all, selfish, smart-alecky brat. But, my grandparents gladly accepted the task, being there for my parents when they needed them most.

The house my grandparents live is in an upscale area of Houston called Memorial. They moved into this house in 1970, one year before I was born, and have been there ever since. The house hasn’t changed much, if any, in 39 years. It was here that my family would travel to see the grandparents, along with the aunts, uncles, and cousins who all lived in Texas. I loved going there. My cousins were roughly my age, and we ran and played in the yard before getting sent “back yonder” to the room used for sleeping and punishment. My grandparents had a racecar that I loved to putter around on, as well as giant tinker toys, 4,000 board games, and mounds of other things that kids love. Most of the pictures, which are still hanging today, are of the grandkids. We are ridiculously dressed in the garb of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, and I can remember each photo session vividly. Of course, we hated getting our picture taken and someone was always screaming or melting down. Usually one of the aunts or uncles or my parents would have to threaten us with death just to get us to stand still long enough to snap the picture.

As all this played out, my Grandmama and Paw sat in the background. They would chime in on occasion to see if we needed a snack or drink or to scoop us up for a quick hug. I wouldn’t necessarily categorize my grandparents as outwardly loving, but we knew they loved us. Looking back, there were millions of little things they did to show their love for all of us, we were just too busy being grandkids to see.

Of all the things my grandparents did to show their adoration, none of them were as large as taking me in for those 2 years in high school. At that point, they had been in the house for 19 years. My racecar was still there, but showing its age (it’s gone now) along with all the toys and games of our youth. Some of my cousins were much younger, so the second round of grandkids now found the joy of these trinkets and games. As I got settled in the house, I remember thinking how old everything looked. The phones were still rotary phones, the TVs had dials on them (no remotes either), and the kitchen had a built-in Freon-based refrigerator. For two years, I put my grandparents through more than they deserved while they were unmoving in their guidance of their ungrateful grandson. For two years, I noticed and commented on the state of the house that had become my temporary home. I complained about the rotary phones and pointed out the deficiencies of their old refrigerator. I stayed out later than I should and expected them to accept that I had a right to do what I wanted. In my bathroom, there were many water stains on the ceiling and walls. One water stain, in particular, ran down ¾ of the wall near the toilet. I looked at this water stain everyday for two years, wondering when my crazy grandparents were going to get with the program and take care of this stain. Didn’t they care about their house and what people thought? What was wrong with them?

This past Saturday, I stood in that same bathroom looking at that water stain. The bathroom is unchanged from 20 years ago, as is the rest of the house, really. I slept in the same room, ate at the same table in the same kitchen. I watched my grandfather smoke the same pipe and get coffee out of the same percolating coffee urn. I must have stood there for 10 full minutes staring at this damn water stain. I wasn’t wondering why it was never fixed or painted over. I was thinking about how, while a little snot of a teenager was criticizing his grandparents for being clueless to appearances, my grandmother (who died in 1998) was making my dinner and my grandfather was asking about my day at school. I was thinking about how much they loved me and how little I ever showed my appreciation. I was thinking about how lucky I am to have one more weekend at my grandparents’ house with one more chance to tell my 94-year old grandfather that I love him. I was thinking that it has taken almost 40 years for me to have even the slightest clue of what matters. After 10 minutes, I found myself openly crying while running my fingers over a water stain that I hope will never be fixed.

Maybe it was the excitement and emotion of the 20-year reunion or maybe it was my recent health scare, but I spent a large part of this weekend thinking about who I was then and who I am now. I badmouth our house in Charlotte all the time. There are cracked tiles on the kitchen floor, the roof sometimes leaks a bit after a good rain, and a myriad of other mostly cosmetic problems that weigh on me. Often, they overshadow the four beautiful children and the wife I tricked into staying with me. I think maybe my grandfather has taught me one more lesson: Life’s little problems can be fixed later, but life’s little moments need to be handled now. I made him promise me that I could stay at the house again at my 30-year reunion. I hope that stain is still there.