One morning, while my mother was getting me ready for school, my grandfather offered to walk me to kindergarten. My mom was more than happy to have some time to herself, so I got ready, gave her a kiss goodbye, and started out the door with him. After a few steps, my grandfather squatted in front of me and asked me to climb on his back. I had just gotten used to him and my grandmother living with us, and so this was a big deal for me.
“Come, let me carry you to school,” he said when he saw my hesitation. “Who knows when I’ll be able to do this again.”
I was only five years old, and even though I didn’t fully understand what he meant, I still felt the importance of the request and I said, “Okay.”
I carefully climbed on and he carried me for the ten minute walk to school. I felt comfortable, and wondered why I was so hesitant before. I rested my head against his shoulder and tried to match my breathing with his.
We didn’t talk much on the way there, and even though since that day our relationship never went deep enough to talk about how to stand up to a bully, or how to deal with putting a broken heart back together, least he could talk to me through this, and with every step he took I realized he was teaching me. He was telling me everything he wanted to tell me.
He told me stories about his mistakes and victories.
He told me about the joys he shared, and the tears that he wiped away.
He told me he was happy.
He told me this moment made him happy.
And before it was too late, he wanted to tell me he loved me.
As we reached the front doors of my school, I gave him a hug and said, “Thank you grandpa, I’ll see you at home.” It’s been twenty years since that morning, later and he was right. That was the only time he’s carried me.
He’s 94 now, and I was able to return the favor last month when I visited him in California at the assisted living center where he lives. I pushed him along his wheelchair, held his hand while we talked, and bought him some new shoes. His memory fails him from time to time, and his legs can’t carry him anymore, but he’s happy and at peace. And I realized even after all these years, he’s still teaching me lessons of what means to live a humble, honest, and loving life.