June 15, 1983
Grandpa looked at me with his glass eye reflecting my reflection and said, “Go outside and find me a rock, Soldier, not just any rock...a special rock.”
Once a year he asks me to find a rock and bring it to him. It is a simple request. I don’t mind. Every time I bring him the first rock I see he just looks it over with his glass eye and calls it, “Perfect.”
“What’s so special about a rock?” I asked again today just like I asked last year. Just like last year, Grandpa thought for a second and said, “Everything”.
So I went rock hunting again. I don’t know what Grandpa’s neighbors think when they see me walking slowly up and down his back yard, searching the ground like I lost something important, like a key to an old locked door or a clue to a family mystery.
Today’s special rock found me. I could feel its jagged edge under my foot as I stepped on it. It was mostly buried, most likely by Grandma’s and Grandpa’s footsteps as they walked around their own backyard. I guess special rocks and other special stuff are mostly buried. So I dug it up. It was about the size of a quarter. It was mostly brown with flecks of shiny purple crystal. I wasn’t really sure there was anything special about it.
“Here it is,” I said as I handed it over to Grandpa. He looked at it with his glass eye and said, “Perfect.”
“C'mon," I asked. "What’s so special about an old rock?”
“Did you find it?” he asked.
“You know I did,” I answered.
“Then it is what it is,” he said. He always says that when the answer is too simple to explain. “It is what it is.”
I stared at Grandpa, not yet satisfied with his answer. I could tell his old glass eye thought about it some more. He then handed the rock back to me. “Here you go, Soldier,” he said. “Go into my room and open the top drawer of my dresser.”
“Your underwear drawer?” I asked fearfully.
“Nosireebob,” he replied. “It’s my memory drawer.”
“We got a junk drawer at home,” I said.
“For some people,” he replied, “It’s the same thing.”
“Top drawer?” I asked as I walked away and into his bedroom.
“Yesireebob,” he answered.
So I walked into Grandpa’s room. You could smell it was his room. The old man mustiness and scent of a Aqua Velva will always give it away. With rock in hand I opened the top drawer of his dresser. It was not organized at all. It looked a lot like our junk drawer at home. But unlike our junk drawer, Grandpa’s memory drawer had a box of rocks and one of his diaries. The date 1973 was written on the diary cover in big bold lettering.
1973 was the year Grandma died.
It looked like there was about 10 or so rocks in the box. I figured this is where all those special rocks have gone each year...the ones Grandpa has asked me to find.
I left Grandpa's bedroom not yet satisfied about rocks, and what made them special. Again I just stared at his glass and waited for an explanation.
Grandpa is rarely short on explanations.
"The day your Grandmother died..."
"When was that?" I interrupted.
"June 15, 1973," he answered. "You were just a toddler. We were babysitting you. Your grandmother and I watched you stumble around our backyard. Then you carefully pick up an old rock you found. Your eyes lit up. You giggled. She laughed. You were both so excited. You walked over and handed it to me.
"Did you save it?" I asked.
"Nosireebob. I threw it back in the yard. But your grandmother scolded me. You laughed at that. Then you chased after that same rock, found where I had tossed it, and handed it this time to Grandma."
"What did Grandma do then?"
"She hugged you. She thanked you. She said it was the most special gift she had ever received and she put it away in her drawer."
"And then?" I asked.
"And then...she collapsed a little later...two hours it was. She died of a brain aneurism."
"I'm sorry," I said.
"Don't be," he said. "Just help me.”
“Help you how?”
“Keep finding these here special rocks,” replied Grandpa. “I want to give them to her the next time we meet.”