There’s Message For My Mother In My Dead Grandfather’s Self-Portrait

My mom hates her father. Grandfather Jack’s name might as well have been a swear word when I was growing up. Dad told me the story once, on the condition that I never tell mom I knew.

Jack was married to my Grandmother Kathy for 22 years before he cheated on her. It wasn’t a midlife crisis or an intoxicated indiscretion either — he’d been going on fishing trips every other weekend for almost a year before Kathy figured out the fish was named Sally, and that she was half his age. Either dad doesn’t know the specifics or he wouldn’t tell me, but I guess Kathy decided suicide was a less sinful way out than murder or divorce. That was before I was even born, but mom hasn’t spoken a word to her father since.

I still got to know him though. It took 8 years of his begging and pleading after I was born, but mom finally gave in and arranged for us to meet (using my father to deliver messages between them, as she ‘was afraid of what she’d say if they spoke’). I was pretty scared when dad told me we were going to drive an hour into the desert to visit grandpa Jack’s house, and mom only made it worse in the days leading up to the meeting.

“He might be an ax-murderer by now for all I know,” Mom said.

Dad said he’s a professor of art history.

“Or maybe he’ll say nasty things about me. Whatever he tells you, I don’t want you to listen to him.”

Dad made a joke about how I’ve already had a lot of practice not listening to my parents. Mom didn’t smile.

“In fact, it would be better if you didn’t talk to him at all. Just let him see that you’re a happy, healthy, well-adjusted boy, and then go play by yourself until dad takes you home. Okay?”

“You’re going to have a great time,” Dad told me on the way. “He’s got a whole art studio setup with everything you can imagine. Clay pots and sculptures, water and oil paints, brushes and tools of every size and shape — we can hang out all day if you want.”

“Does Grandfather hate me?” I asked.

“Of course not. He wouldn’t have kept sending letters all those years if he hated you. All he cares about is his seeing his grandson.”

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