My Pirate Grandfather

Lucinda Palme

My Pirate Grandfather

For our weeklong holiday, tomorrow we will fly to Barcelona. Barcelona doesn’t want tourists like us to come but.

The cooked and uncooked (from jars and cans and tins) food is set out on the dining table, orderly and aesthetically. Ready to eat. The phones rings. My father has to answer it. The landline phone that sits in the alcove of the wall usually never rings. When it rings, the caller will be my father’s sister or mother’s brother. And when we sit at the dining table, my mother and father have a commandment that is neither written in the Bible nor in the Swedish Law, not to have mobile phones. Their phones ring a lot but God knows who calls and with whom they talk.

Father answers the phone. He mostly listens, and returns to his seat. The expression on his face changes from cheerfulness to sadness. My mother asks, ‘What happened?’

‘He died,’ father says.

‘Your father?’ mother asks.

‘Yes. My sister called,’ father informs.

‘Sorry. He lived long enough,’ mother observes, and wishes, ‘we are going on holiday, I guess. Once we return, we … go …’

‘Mom, shut your fucking mouth,’ my sister yells, ‘you think of holiday, now?’

‘Mind your language,’ my mother shouts back at my sister.

‘Then, he has to be in mortuary,’ father says to mother. My sister tries to console my father. She is not my father’s daughter, step-daughter.

‡ ‡ ‡

My sister adored my paternal grandfather unlike our mother who disliked him. Whenever my grandfather visited us he always brought a surprise gift for my sister (things of my grandmother who died long time ago, and his sister’s). My sister is not my grandfather’s granddaughter but he was a kind man. My mother disliked my grandfather because of his unscheduled visits. During those unscheduled visits, he took me out with him at times without informing my mother or seeking her permission. He took me to all old cafes where one can find elderly people. He took me to eateries that served food that you do not find in the high streets and side streets. He took me to odd places where one can find only youngsters or artists and pensioners and spoke about philosophy with them and he mingled with them effortlessly as they say easy as a pie. He took me on tram rides from one corner of the city to another corner and made me to play in his garden. He introduced me to sailing, swimming and gardening. He made me play the Swedish ball game boule with his pals. Once he took me to an old age home where I met his sister and they spoke very little to each other but I could feel their comfort of companionship and I learned where one lives when one cannot live by oneself. At times he drove me in his battered car to the lakes and seashore and made me to learn angling (importance of patience). I felt at ease with him. Being in his company was never boring. I lived every moment with him. He never spoke about my father with me, and never mentioned anything about my mother, too. I felt he loved his son for it was his duty to love his son though the wife of his son was unwelcoming to him. My grandfather also dressed up like a pirate. He resembled exactly like one of those pirates in those movies. He dressed up like a pirate probably influenced by spending all his working life as a sailor in one of those ships or ferries or boats that anchored or sailed out of Gothenburg’s harbour.  He was a waterman. He was not a man to live on the land. And, he managed to balance his retired life to live both on water and land.

‡ ‡ ‡

My mother senses the feelings of my sister who adored my grandfather though he was not her real grandfather. My father sits speechless.

I try to remember a moment with my grandfather that was boring but there were none: I lived every moment with him, naturally. My eyes are moist. My mother sees the moistness in my eyes. She realizes her children loved that old man, that father of her husband, that pirate man.

Mother says, ‘I was unkind to that man.’ She cannot control herself. She cries, loudly, ‘I was mean to him.’

My father is speechless but gets up and tries to console his wife our mother.

My sister says to my father, her stepdad, calmly but sternly, ‘Let she cry.’

—Lucinda Palme