My Dead Grandfather’s Broken Promise
I’d like to say that my grandfather was a nice man, but I can’t.
I mean, he was nice to my family and me, but that wasn’t all there was to him.
The thing I remember most about my grandfather was his ornament collection. In his later years, he lived in my family’s house, in a room upstairs.
He kept that ornament collection under his bed, in several wooden chests with locks. Kind of like the chests where you keep the dinner silver.
Each ornament was kept in one of those protective styrofoam meshes you see on pears in a grocery store. Inside the box, each ornament was separated from the others with a foam divider.
Grandfather called them rooms.
I once asked him why he went to such lengths to protect the ornaments. He told me that each of the ornaments was a promise he broke. Every time he broke that promise, he got a new ornament or two to remind himself not to do it again.
I remember seeing our Christmas tree covered in his shiny globe ornaments, little blinking lights nestled amongst the globes seeming to set the tree ablaze in beautiful reflections. I remember putting my hand into his and telling him that I’d never seen so many broken promises in my life.
He smiled and told me that it was only the one promise, broken a hundred times.
At that age, it seemed silly. How could you break the same promise over and over?
My sister and I grew older, went to college, settled down with our own families.
My grandfather died last Tuesday. We held the funeral service on Friday. On Tuesday of this week, everyone went to the reading of the will.
My older sister Liza was there with her husband. She asked me what I thought I was getting. I shrugged and told her that I thought that our parents would get everything.
My grandfather did leave everything to my parents, everything except those ornaments.
“To my grandson, Charlie. I leave you my ornaments. I leave you my broken promise.”
Everyone stared at me then, but I understood. It was a pure moment a grandfather shared with his grandson.
I took home six wooden boxes filled with ornaments.
There were twelve ornaments in each box: seventy-two total.
When I got home, my son Ben asked me what was in the pirate chests. I smiled and told him treasure. He got this huge grin on his face and started hopping back and forth on either foot.
I handed Ben the key and let him figure out how to open the chests. I think that’s important, letting your kids figure out things for themselves. I guess that’s something for a different thread though.
So Ben got one of the chests open and picked up one of the ornaments. He handed it to me, holding it carefully in both hands, looking all the world like a servant handing a king something valuable.
He said, “You can have my treasure, dad.”
It was a pure moment a father shared with his son.
I reached for the ornament, but it slipped from my fingers, shattering into a million pieces on the tile.
My son bent down and picked up something the size of his own finger. He held it up to me and asked, “What’s this?”
My son held what looked like a petrified stick. At the tip was a bit of chipped pink paint.
I broke five more of the ornaments and found two more child sized fingers. The other three ornaments held something else. A small length of fishing line with a hook tied to the end hung down inside each one. On each hook was a dried, spherical bit of meat with a small dried stalk.
I want to believe that they’re dried eyeballs. I need to believe this, because the other option is too horrible to think about.
I held every other ornament in each box up to my ear and shook it. There was something inside all of them.
I loved my grandfather, and did the only thing I could.
I wiped all of the ornaments down and put them under my own bed. I’m keeping them for holiday season.
So if you happen to be shopping for gifts this Christmas, and spot a single mismatched ornament on the store’s Christmas tree, try to ignore it.
It’s just one of my grandfather’s broken promises.