A Writing Experiment
Last year I took a two-day writing class at Stanford. One assignment was to change the narrator of the story. Instead of writing about my grandfather’s death from my point of view, I wrote it from his. My small group thought having him speak from the grave was weird. See what you think.
So Long, Rickey
I treasured my visits to my daughter Connie’s family in Berkeley. Her husband, Gil, made a good living working in the insurance business in San Francisco. I liked him, but felt his cutthroat focus on business success was too intense. Maybe that’s because I never made it in business myself. People said I was a dreamer and too soft for business. My Boise, Idaho laundry struggled for years. We made enough to survive, but not much more.
Always, the highlight of my visits to Berkeley was Rickey. Connie’s only child and my third grandchild, he was my favorite. I was there just after he was born. I took the first photo of him at just six months.
I loved watching Rickey grow up over the years. I don’t know who was more excited during my visits, me or him. When he was eight years old, we worked together in the basement building a model train setup: switches, coal dumper, bridges, the whole deal. I had been a carpenter and wanted to help Rickey learn the skills. Mostly, though, it was just the fun of being with him.
During my visit for Thanksgiving in 1951, the pains in my stomach, which I’d had for about a year, got so bad I had to go to the hospital. I was a convert to Christian Science. Growing up in Kansas, our family was Methodist. When I met my wife, Irene, though, she convinced me to join the Christian Science faith. I bought into it completely. So, as a Christian Scientist, it was hard for me to seek medical care.
In the past when the pain got really bad I’d meet with a Christian Science practitioner. We would pray together. I would reaffirm my belief in Science and Health With Keys to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy. My pain was just the result of my erroneous thinking. I am created in God’s image, so there can be no illness. A few days after Thanksgiving, though, I began vomiting blood. I agreed to get medical help. Connie took me to see her doctor. He said I should be admitted to the hospital right away.
The following day at about 3:30 P.M., as I was being bounced down the stairs of Connie’s house on a gurney heading for the ambulance, I saw Rickey on his bike, just getting home from school. He came running over. I asked the attendants to stop for a moment. With all the strength I could muster, I raised up on one elbow, and took Rickey’s hand. He looked terrified. Our eyes locked and I said, simply, “So long, Rick.”
I got sicker in the hospital. Connie came to visit, but we all thought it was better not to have Rickey see me like this. I died on December 1, 1951. I never saw Rickey again. A huge pain for both of us.
I began to deeply resent Christian Science. I now see it as silly nonsense. The doctors said my stomach cancer was operable if we’d caught it sooner. I could have lived a few additional years, and spent more time with Rickey. I would have taught him photography and carpentry. He would have taught me that the meaning of my life was not about my failed business career, but in nurturing the next generation.
I have no use for religion. Science – not Christian Science – could have extended my life and my time with my beloved grandson.