Monday, August 31, 2009

Is there a joke here?


I've been sorting through stuff as we unpack in this new house. I'm finding a lot of stuff I could put up in a garage sale, which we'll hold this Saturday, what with the long weekend and all.

As one might expect, there are a lot of mementos, intentional and otherwise. I've come across two articles that were more or less left to me by my wife's grandfather after he passed on. Actually, I don't know if he had a will, and if he did, I don't know if he went into so much detail about divvying up his estate, or at least his worldly goods.

I remember there was talk that maybe I might receive a very nice pair of binoculars he had, but that didn't pan out. For one, it was definitely an object of value, and two, I am neither a hunter nor an avid outdoorsman, while a number of Pam's cousins in Idaho are. I resented that, feeling I'd been promised something and... well, really, I am only a grandson-in-law with no particular claim to anything of his.

It seems though, that I did receive a consolation prize of sorts: a necktie he owned with a very cheery Christmas tree pattern, and an old book of photos of Sweden, entirely in Swedish.

In my mind, there are two ways of looking at this. The first is that these were items no one else wanted, so they unloaded it on perhaps the least of all members of the family. The other way of looking at it is that maybe they did see a sort of connection between me and him in this interest in Sweden, and a tie that... well, you probably won't see too many aspiring Bishops and First Presidents wearing it to sacrament meeting, that's pretty certain... but on the other hand...

Now, Merlin was very devout in his beliefs. Very faithful and trusting that the way of the Latter Day Saints is the way, even if he wasn't too religious, so to speak, in practicing it. He offered his Testimony, or the occasional fragment of it, from time to time. Part of it was his recollection of his own mission to Sweden so many years ago. He still uttered the odd phrase or two in Swedish even in his last years. It was clear to see he did love that experience so.

I have a similar love of the place myself, particularly after discovering this was where my family name started and I too set foot there and brought back soil from my own great-great-grandfather's homestead.

We both had a tie to Sweden, much more so than anyone else in the family, so perhaps it was very insightful on someone's part to pass that on to me.

Still, compared to some of the other material things he left that the rest of the clan claimed... well, really, I actually suppose the joke is on them, if their intent was to leave us not so geographically close to him with the crumbs of the feast.

How so? Well, looking through this book, and inspecting this tie, it occurs to me that he and I actually did have that Swedish connection in common. There were times when I actually felt a bit... maybe not "singled out," but I did sort of feel that maybe there was something between us that nobody else shared, not even his daughters.

I could see Merlin still has a certain spark in his eyes, an ambition. A dream. My father-in-law often spoke, often derisively, that apparently he and mum-in-law made a mistake in taking the Old Man to see Casey's Shadow, a movie about horse racing. This apparently inspired Merlin to persue the chance of one day running a horse in the "All American Futurity."

Brent just shakes his head at the thought, "We never should have taken him to see that movie..." and Carolyn (mum-in-law) was up in arms at the thought of him spending all that time and money on "those damned horses," while at the same time both admitted that, "it keeps him alive."

I wonder sometimes though... once in a while, I used to call to arrange to actually ride one of his horses. I even got a pair of boots so I could ride properly (and safely). Nothing much, just a couple of trots down from one end of the pasture to the other, one or two laps, as it were. I sort of wonder if that might have kind of cut me into a slightly closer circle than others? I mean, I don't know of anyone else, least of all the adults, who ever took an interest in this (rather expensive) dream of his. Perhaps he let me in on his dream. Just a bit of it.

That's one thing about people here, I've noticed. People don't dream. They don't have a lot of ambitions beyond getting that job, the house, the small Israelite tribe of one's own, then eventually retiring to a life of doing nothing at all. It's like in Utah parents rear their kids, fill their heads with "dreams," then tell them to put them away when they turn 18, and get serious about life.

Merlin, on the other hand, bucked the system, by holding on to a dream well past the time when the local culture expects him to focus on the afterlife. Maybe I read that in him, and maybe he in me, so we were kindred spirits of a sort.

I think I felt that connection, very faint, but there just the same one holiday at the in-laws' house, not too long before he finally died. He and I went for a walk around the block, it might have been Thanksgiving, and it was just nippy but not frigid, yet.

We walked in silence most of the way, and he finally spoke up to me, like he was confiding some awful truth he couldn't tell anyone else. "I hate getting old."

"I do, too," I agreed. Not that I was indeed getting old, but once I'd turned 30, there were the tell-tale signs of things to come, like the Type-II Diabetes. That was enough, I decided, I don't want to see more organ failures or physical deteriorations... and I certainly don't want to "grow up and get serious," if by that one means settling into a Lay-Z-Boy and waiting to die, never even trying to "punch the envelope," trying to see how close I can get to catching that star.

Like a distant star telling its life story in a single collective burst of energy from all the nuclear reactions in its core... Merlin told me his story, and that it was coming to an end.

His children didn't get it. How could they? Children don't know how to listen.

But I heard it, and I can't wait to ride again.

Update, 6 September: I've suddenly found myself in possession of a rather nice pair of binoculars, the pair Merlin owned. Strange timing that this should suddenly turn up, less than a week after this post originally went up.

I am grateful, just the same. Merlin's legacy goes on.

What am I going to do with it?

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