Last Hour

Delta Winds cover 2006Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


Last Hour

Christopher Miller

The bell rang in a shrill pitch as students spilled from their classrooms. Finally another painful day came to a close. My buddy David and I left the band room on a Monday afternoon as usual, heading towards the parking lot and our respected vehicles. As juniors with sweet rides, we thought nothing could stand in our way. Our thoughts circled around what we had done that weekend and our personal plans for this fine spring afternoon. Turning to me, Dave asked how my sick grandfather was doing. I told him I saw him a couple times that past weekend, and that he seemed to be doing well.

Breaking from my inward focus, I surveyed the black asphalt sea, tossing with teenage movement, and my gaze fell on the unexpected figure of my father. We stopped and waited for him to come to us after he dodged a Pontiac filled to the brim with pubescent passengers. As he walked towards us, I noticed a glint of something in his eyes. It was not of anger, so I was sure I wasn't in trouble. It was not of joy, so I couldn't hope for a new gadget or gizmo to help clutter my already over-packed room. It was not of need, so I could not prepare myself for service. Besides, I'm not sure what help I could have given anyway. It was something else that my mind had very little recollection of.

After swimming through all conscious emotions, I grasped it. The emotion in my father's eyes was sorrow. A few moments passed while I searched for the cause of this emotion as my father waited for the inevitable question. Finally I asked, "What's wrong?" After the words left my mouth, I knew what his response would be and that glint of sorrow began to form in the corners of my eyes as well.

"Grandpa passed away this afternoon," he said. My heart sank and my eyes shifted from my father's face to Dave's. His eyes offered help if I needed it and mine offered thanks. I left with my dad to go to my uncle's where the rest of the family had already congregated to help comfort each other. Unfortunately, we had learned how to comfort each other well, because this was not our first loss. Two years before we had lost my aunt, and three years before that we had lost my grandmother.
This experience, coupled with my current heartbreak, produced a mind that rivaled the confusion of a tornado. In an attempt to grasp what was happening, I began to think back to the day before and the newly labeled "last hour" I had spent with my grandfather. He had moved from his senior apartment to a convalescent home. That week he had fallen down in the middle of the night, unable to get himself back up again. My mother found him the next day around noon freezing with a cut above his elbow. After going to the hospital, he was placed in the care of the Wine Country senior complex on Turner Road, only a few blocks away from the apartment he had.

I felt the name "Wine Country" was a tad ironic, as they never served wine to their residents. Here luxury was not the name of the game. Besides, the alcohol probably would have counteracted the daily allotment of pills for each patient in those little Dixie cups they kept on a rolling tray. Also, set on a long strip of land in the middle of a residential area, it hardly resembled the country. A long driveway divided the property in half, convalescent home on one side, assisted living on the other--neither of which seemed to offer their residents much self-respect. Every room had a window, but I wouldn't call the neighbors' fence much of a view.

I couldn't imagine the term "assisted living." I was a seventeen year old with a very well taken care of brown 1990 Honda Accord. I didn't want any assistance even though I may have needed it more than some of the World War II vets encased by these walls. I pulled my car into a parking spot not too far from the entrance of my grandfather's room. As I got out, I realized that I wouldn't have my "sweet ride" without him. My car was his at one time. He sold it dirt cheap to my uncle and a few years down the line, my uncle sold it even cheaper to me when I got my license. Without the handed-down generosity, I would not have been able to pay for it by myself. Perhaps I lived slightly more "assisted" than I would have thought.

From my car, I walked down the walkway and up the steps onto the deck that surrounded the convalescent home to the back door. Stepping through the threshold from outside to in, I noticed the atmosphere had drastically changed. The air seemed tangible, weighted by various odors. Apparently, the workers tried to choke out the fervent human smell of waste and perfume with that of chemical bliss. Unfortunately, neither did a number on the other and instead both hung in the air together in suffocating matrimony. The pictures in the extra-wide, pale yellow hallway offered scenes that should be associated with the smell of salt water or pine instead of the dense smog that insulted my nostrils. As I continued down the hall, television sets screamed at me from open doorways entertaining their hard-of-hearing companions. One room seemed completely dark except for the flashing screen of the TV. I began to wonder if I would find my grandpa in the same lonely state.

Finally, I reached Grandpa's room. I knocked and then entered to find him encircled with sunlight that streamed from the open curtains of the sliding glass door that stood across from the doorway. He sat at the edge of his bed fiddling with the TV, the remote nestled in his vein-riddled hands. Slightly hunched over, his eyes constantly tracing a line between the remote and the TV, he looked extra small. He had always been a short man, but it seemed like that day his size seemed to add to the look of his frail frame. His skin looked weathered, and wrinkles plotted their twisting course down his soft cheeks. His bristle-textured moustache matched the blended light and dark gray hair that encircled his mostly bare head. Just a few thin silky hairs and retro hair care products covered the top, releasing a sheen that could reflect sunlight.

We greeted each other with a hug, and I proceeded to help him with the television set. After finding the baseball game, I leaned against the counter next to his bed in the moderately sized room so we could talk. We discussed the weather, the ballgame, school, and my future plans. Midway through our conversation, my cell phone rang. Frustrated with the interruption, I tried to quickly silence it until I looked at the number. The caller ID spoke of someone who was supposed to be in Disneyland that day, so I decided to answer it. Sure enough, my friend Lexie called me from the Indiana Jones Adventure to rub it in. After I talked to her for a few moments, I hung up and explained to my grandfather what my phone call had consisted of. He said that he thought it was neat that a friend would care about me enough to take the time to call me while enjoying the Magic Kingdom.

From there the conversation began to shift. He began to talk about how proud he was of me and of the person I had become. We reminisced about the times when I was very young, when he would come and entertain me for an hour in the morning while my mother got ready. I thanked him for the time spent, and I thought about how much that really meant to me. He proceeded to talk about how he felt proud of how the family as a whole turned out, how his kids supported each other and how we grandchildren did the same. I didn't notice it then, but looking back on it, Grandpa said it with resolution and finality, something that meant a great deal the next day.

We talked a little longer, said our final good byes, and then I left unknowing of the events to follow. As I drove home, I began to think about our talk and about the time he had spent with me when I was small. I thought about that day and that hour and how the time almost repaid him for one of the days that he had spent with me. I decided that from then on I would stop and see him every chance I got in an attempt to repay him. He told my parents that night that he was so glad that I had stopped, and that further solidified my resolution. Needless to say, I never got another chance.

At my grandfather's funeral, I mustered up the courage to read chapter thirteen of First Corinthians, the chapter on love. Speaking to a packed room that already knew the great nature of my grandfather, I attempted to explain why I thought of him when I read the passage about how love is not self-seeking. The chapter also talks about how everything else is useless without love. At the end of his life, my grandpa invested in love, because he invested in his family. He told me with resolution that he was proud of me and of the rest of his family. I thought I could repay him. I thought I could clear my debt, but in reality, there was no way. He along with the rest of my family has put an investment of love in me, not so I could someday pay it back, but so I could pay it forward so the next generation has the love I had.

We all have investments. At that age, I invested in myself. I learned that life is more than me. The question we need to keep asking ourselves is "what are we investing in?"