(Un)known: Grandpa’s Daughter

Grandpa’s moving out. He’s taking off with a camper and some trinkets — a mere few of the thousands that are perched upon assorted bookcases and shelves around his home. There’s model tanks and little wooden airplanes; radios that look like Coke cans and miniature muscle cars; Playboy and Maxim magazines sitting dustily next to how-to manuals from the 1980s.

In the middle of this labyrinth — in its musty air that smells of a certain masculinity slowly aging out of our social landscape — sits a gorgeous, solid oak roll-top desk; it has three hidden compartments, but treasure hunter Grandpa says he has only found two of them. It is something a fine, neighborly accountant would have adored before modernity knocked on the door and evicted pen-and-paper forevermore. The top rolls — clickety-clack and such — up into the desk, or down to lock away its annals with a brass skeleton key.

Just underneath the lip of that rolling top are little cutout quotes from assorted publications, none of them more than a few square centimeters in size. Their texts are tiny and run the emotional gamut from humorous to heartbreaking.

This one, trapped beneath the sheen of clear plastic tape, seemed particularly gaunt amidst its paper-cutout brethren of jokes and satire.

As I read it, I felt I had discovered a sad treasure — at once invaluable and of no monetary value at all. There, beneath the lip of his roll-top desk, beneath his long winded blue-collar life, beneath his sometimes acute temper and tendency to growl: there was a quote that captured, briefly, Grandpa’s most sincere disappointment. Here was a side of him largely unknown to me, a portion of his heart confined to size 9 font and stuck quietly where it might have gone unnoticed forever. Ten words with the honesty of a thousand prophets. Times New Roman was complicit in hiding Grandpa’s stowaway sentiment: the sense that he had lost his daughter — my Mother — when she got married.

Perhaps somewhere in that trove of a basement lies a map to other pieces of him. And maybe the third hidden desk compartment he can’t seem to find won’t ever be found, because it would contain some thing of magic that could undo that moment in my Mother’s life and let him believe “Love” a wonderful thing again.