"Lisa" 9 inches by 12 inches; ink on paper, $125
It left him unable to speak or to swallow very well.
He could not really walk, but he could shuffle around.
His stroke had damaged his brain so that he was unable to write sentences, or even words.
He drooled a lot, so he constantly held a handkerchief to his mouth.
And he sort of growled when he wanted to communicate.
He regularly got frustrated by his inability to get others to understand him.
So, he growled all the more.
And waved his hands wildly.
It frightened me.
He frightened me.
And I was told that I could not expect any more from him – that his condition wasn’t going to change.
So basically I stuck to the obligatory kiss on the cheek when our visits began and ended.
And watched him from a distance, stayed out of his way.
When I was about twelve years old, my grandparents were visiting our house in Princeton, New Jersey.
My mother and my grandmother were doing their usual non-stop talking at the kitchen table.
My grandfather was being his usual reclusive self, sitting in a chair downstairs in the family room.
I passed through that room – I don’t remember why – and he growled out at me and motioned for me to come over to his chair.
I did so, reluctantly.
He held a pencil in his hand, and had on his lap a pad of paper, covered with numbers and figuring.
He wrote a large number on the paper – some six figures long – something like 578,254.
Then he wrote a single digit – like 5.
Then as quick as you please he wrote out five numbers, one beneath the other,
and showed me that there were five of them
and that the five numbers all added up to the six digit number – 578,254.
He did it again – writing a large number,
writing a single digit number,
writing that many numbers, one beneath the other,
then showing me that they all added up to the large number.
I was stunned.
It was like magic.
It was like he didn’t even have to think.
He just did it.
I looked at him in his chair.
Our eyes met,
and I saw that he actually had a twinkle in his eye!
He even smiled – sort of.
I ran upstairs to tell my mother and grandmother.
They told me about the real gift for math that my grandfather had,
and about how that part of his brain wasn’t effected by the stroke.
Math was something he could do.
In that moment, in that exchange,
I saw my grandfather transfigured.
He came alive for me at a depth and dimension I had never known before.
In that moment I was connected with him and with his past.
And I saw him as far more than the infirm, frightening old man I had known.
From that day on I saw him differently, knew him differently,
more wonderfully, more fully.
And I loved him.