(Fiction-originally appearing as blog post in 2007)
The demeanor was typical for a man of his age and station in life: reflective, pensive, questionably retired, combative against the resentment creeping in on all sides of his deteriorated mind. I, the younger, always acutely aware of my elder’s longing for the better past, tried hard to suppress contrition in my responses to it, watching frail health progressively fail while listening to the incessant pinings. I speculated with shame as to when it all might stop. I thought of my little girl, and wondered if she, too, might eventually have to endure the same cruel abuses from her own aging parents. Shuddering, I glanced over at Grampa.
He always loved the outdoors more than anything else in the world. The persistent reports of environmental gloom and doom must have felt like daggers to his heart. Small wonder he’s bitter. There’s so much to regret—and yet I try to convince myself that there’s simply no point. Weren’t we supposed to do better than they did? Weren’t we? The house he grew up in used to sit just a few hundred yards from where we now stood.
Holding out one atrophied arm so as to draw a great shaking arc with a gnarled old hand, he laid out the landscape that would hold the coming nostalgia as neatly as the driven pilings held the high-rise that was never meant to be squeezed so tightly onto the land, but, nevertheless, was. Grampa cleared his throat.
“I can remember a time when all this was just lush green meadow,” he said matter-of-factly in that characteristic scratchy voice that accompanies advancing years. He snorted with his big, overgrown nose, looking like a gnome calmly surveying a once grand homeland, now lost to the marauding invaders. I waited a while longer, hoping the rest would come right on the heels of the opening rejoinder. My expectation was in vain. Having brought me here, his grandson, the land developer, so as to say his peace, he now turned to go. His retreat was unhesitating. I took this to mean that there could be little question of anything further possibly being appended.
His waddling gait picking its way toward the truck suggested that he was in a hurry to depart. I saw him dismiss my ride with a wispy wave of one hand—the way he always swatted at flies in the summertime. Peering at the incongruous mass of metallic gleam as it must have appeared through his eyes, I saw the truck take on the form of some hulking manufactured grazer, planted firmly on big black paws, dug in unabashedly while it tore at the last little plot of green that still existed here, trying to satisfy an insatiable hunger. In an instant, I felt myself doing mental battle with fleeting pulses of shame. Gas guzzling petro hog. Western excess. Narcissistic Capitalism.
We were on the backside of the project, just on the fringe of my latest housing development, defining the ugly landscape for as far as the eye could see. I hadn’t ever glimpsed it from this perspective, a voyeur up here on the hillside peeping down onto the people’s rooftops. The hill we perched on was barren and scarred, the victim of repeated visitations by heavy earthmoving equipment. Having been violated over and over, she was now covered in that distinctive dark dried brown, bereft of trees and grass and wildlife of any sort. I felt panic setting in.
Concerned by the careless manner in which Grampa might attempt to pull his frail body back into the cab without my assistance, I hurried to catch up to him, now irritated by the shortness of the trip, and the brevity of the explanation serving to justify the wasted gas.
I threw up my own hands in exasperation: “Well, Hell, Grampa, what did you expect? That we should all just forever huddle close together in one small village that never aspires to anything bigger, so that the forest might grow and the flowers might bloom and the bunnies might continue to go hippity hop…and the friggin’ weeds can slither back to the outskirts of town?”
Grampa laughed so hard that he began to cough. He passed right on by the truck, intent on making the short trek back to his apartment on foot. I knew there’d be no stopping him. He called to me over a small shoulder, “They aint makin’ no more of it, Johnny. They aint makin’ no more.”
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