Sorboni Banerjee


Tommy Baxter


Theresa Edo


Erin Jang


Michelle Kearns


Madelyn Rosenberg Lazorchak


Jay Rubin


Sarah Williams

Introductory Essay


By Michelle Kearns

In the room, in which my grandfather lived before he died, a bit of cream silk with a pink flower and a bud was tacked on the wall. It was just above the brass Buddha who sat smiling on a shelf and it was one of the last things I took from my grandfather.

To me the embroidered silk was mysterious, as he was. I’d look and wonder, did he get it on a trip to China? All of his belongings had stories I wanted to know. What was he doing at the Hotel Intercontinental in Bucharest where he picked up the yellow shoe polishing cloth I found in his drawer? And what kind of jewelry had he planned for the bit of polished turquoise he kept?

When I first saw him in this room it was a year after I married. A decade had passed since I’d been in Texas. Way back then I was a freshman in college more interested in the presents I would get than in knowing my grandparents.

After my grandmother died, he was alone in their condo and his thoughts had been running in grooves that worried my mother. When she’d call to ask how he was doing he’d say he was busy. Busy figuring out how much money he had, which was plenty. He started selling off the things my mother had always wanted. The oriental rugs. My grandmother’s jewelry. After my mother said she would buy his old car, he sold it back to the dealer. When she came to visit, he took her to meet his bankers and then asked them to stop talking when they got to the part about what was in his accounts.

He could still take care of himself, but he didn’t feel like it. He didn’t want to cook. He didn’t want to go on trips. So he moved to a nursing-home-like place for people who were closer to the edge of oblivion than he was.

My mother, who knew what a dignified man he’d been, set up his room to make it look the way his things around him had always looked. Just past the door to the right, there was an old bedside table with a drawer where he kept a silver shoehorn engraved with my great-grandfather’s initials. Over his bed there was a framed photograph of him in uniform with my grandmother, a Colonel’s daughter whom he’d met after he graduated from West Point. He looked on, unsmiling, as she, with a mouth-open laugh, cut their wedding cake with a sword. His dresser had his collection of tiny carved animals. A gray stone beaver with some feathers tied on him – some kind of Navajo charm. Beside them, he taped a sign, which my sister untaped when she came by – “Very valuable. Do not touch.” The people here had been stealing enough from him as it was.

The bookcase with the shelves was on the next wall. A box of stationery embossed with the Texas flag sat on the floor underneath it. I got a letter from him on it once. The first shelf just above that was for the James Beard grilling cookbook, the National Geographic picture books and a two-volume story of the King ranch.

The pictures were on the next shelf up. My boy cousin, the only other surviving male with the Grothaus name, was in a silver frame with a crest on it. The nurses would tell me that he’d often take down the one with me and Bob on our wedding day. He walked around showing people his granddaughter, the one that lived far away and the one who was coming to visit soon.

The morning after I arrived late from the airport, he sat waiting, dressed in a cardigan, comb lines in his wavy gray hair. We walked through the hallways to breakfast in the fancy dining room where the people who lived in the condos ate. He’d never go there alone, even though the food was better. He couldn’t remember the names of his old neighbors and he hated that.

The waitress knew his breakfast – coffee, eggs over easy, bacon, and a bowl of strawberries that wasn’t on the menu. He poured on cream, sprinkled a sugar packet, fished out the slivers with his spoon and I listened as he crunched through the seeds.

In between watching the sky for geese and wondering about why the wall sconce was reflected in the window, he told stories. He’d traveled the world, but the things he wanted to talk about came before his wife, his children and before he was a general.

Forefinger against his nose, he swept his hand across one side of his face. This was where it froze on the long walk to school in Buffalo Center. Maybe it was on the same road where he saw a mother skunk leading eight little ones behind her. I imagined the same dusty, dirt road, like in the Wizard of Oz, where he saw a tornado in the distance and ran like hell to get home.

He’d flunked out of West Point at first. Too heartbroken for schoolwork after he ended his romance with his Iowa sweetheart, a hick compared to the wife he would need to help his career as an officer. So he wound up working the elevators in a building on Riverside Drive, where he once had to walk around a ledge and into a window to let a woman in the apartment she’d locked herself out of.

When he got to the part about being tutored downtown, he’d write on an air chalkboard with both hands. That’s how Doc Silverman did it. The man had a business tutoring cadet dropouts so they could get back in. His daughter liked my grandfather and she showed up at the military academy to see him once, but she wasn’t wearing the right clothes. She didn’t fit in and he still felt bad about that.

He’d tell me these things and knock his head with the heel of his hand. How I’d get started on that? From then on I kept visiting every six months or so and each time there were fewer and fewer stories he could remember to tell. I’d ask about the skunks or the night police stopped him for driving on the sidewalk and he give his head a shake and say it’s not there anymore.

Each night, after we came back from some nice San Antonio restaurant where he ordered his favorite dinner of a martini, steak and crème brulé, I’d say goodnight and go upstairs to the guestroom with his kiss still wet on my cheek.

I’d get another one when I left for the airport. He’d tell me, “I don’t know why, but I’m sad you’re leaving and I guess there’s nothing I can do about it.”
When he died last January, I had been planning another trip. I went for the funeral, the party with champagne in the sky lounge and afterwards we walked to his room. Most everyone was sure about what they wanted. My sister got the little animals. My mother said my younger brother should have the porcelain devil. Mephistopheles leaned, from the very top of the bookshelf in a red jacket and cap, eyes narrowed with a wicked smile, saying as my grandfather said he did, “You silly so and so.”

I wanted all of it. I circled the room, looking over things, trying to pick out something that would represent his mysterious, complicated life. My other brother claimed the framed dragon and the Buddha from the Philippines.
The flowered silk was the only thing left. I untacked it from the wall. On the back was a made-in-China sticker, the kind that’s on something new-ish that an old man hasn’t spent much time with at all.