My grandfather’s garage smells like him. Like oil and gasoline and cut grass and cologne. No one who wears cologne has been in that garage for ages, years, probably. But it still smells like that to me. The garage is warm, but damp. Grandpa’s old Dodge Ram sits like some great dead beast, slain by time. Its passenger side chair lies on the ground next to it. There are bicycles, covered in dust, hanging from hooks on the wall next to coiled extension cords and hoses. Shelves line one wall, filled with nails and screws and tools and parts. And, way up high, there are packages of toilet paper and Kleenex, kept safe from the water that always seems to be trickling from somewhere or other down the drain in the floor. The garage is like a cave seen through the eyes of a child, filled with enough wonders to occupy countless adventures. Secret. Special. Safe.
My grandfather died in 2007. I was 19. He had a stroke. It was almost Christmas, and I was just getting into winter exams. I never visited him in the hospital.
When I moved to Windsor, I moved into the house he used to live in. My uncle lived there alone after my grandfather died. I told people I was moving in with my uncle. It sounded better than, “I’m moving into the room that my grandfather lived in, until he didn’t anymore.” It was an odd move for me. I had lived on my own before when I went to college in London, but this was different. When I went to school in London, I lived in a house. It was only a place to eat, a place to sleep. I didn’t have any real attachment to it. But now I was living in the house my grandparents had owned for decades, the house that my mother had grown up in, the house that I had visited for spring breaks and summer vacations. I had moved into a home.
The reason why I was in my grandfather’s garage for the first time since he passed away was because I needed a power drill. My towel rack was coming off the wall, and I needed to drill new pilot holes so that I could screw it back in. I’ve never owned my own power tools; I’ve never needed them before. But my grandfather had been an electrician in his day; if there was a power tool, he would have owned it. I would just have to find it first.
I wonder if my grandfather knew how much I appreciated him. Oh, I know he knew I loved him. He was my grandpa, and a good grandpa at that. He would buy me Hawaiian sprinkled donuts and let me jump on his bed, so of course I loved him. But there was more to it than that. I appreciated the little things. The way he would give me the same advice every time he saw me painting models: “Keep those, they might be worth thousands of dollars to the right collector.” The way he would patiently listen to me tell the same joke, time and time again, even though he knew the punch line (he was the one who told it to me in the first place). The way he told me stories about his time in the air force, and then would tell me never to join. The way he would let me listen to his Teach Yourself Spanish tapes with him, even though I never really tried to learn. There were a lot of things I never thanked him for that maybe I should have.
I never visited him in the hospital. I didn’t want to see him sick. Paralyzed and gaunt and wrong. I didn’t want to see my grandfather like that.
Getting that power drill took me ages. Not that it was hard to find; the garage was very well organized. The drill was right where it should be, on a shelf next to the other power tools, in the cardboard box it must have came in. Its cord was coiled, rather than stuffed, in the box. And right on top of it was a box of different sized bits. I saw all that, almost right away, but it still took me a long time to get it. I had to stop along the way, to explore and examine what I could. Over there, a pile of children’s books. Here, a brown safari hat. In that box, a red and white plastic chain. In this drawer, a home-made birthday card. There were dozens of odds and ends. Each one had a story; some I remembered from my childhood, some I had been told by my family, and some I made up, imagining my mother as a child, and my grandpa before her. There were no unhappy memories in my grandfather’s garage.
When I was done with the drill, I put it back exactly where I found it. On the shelf, in its cardboard box, power cord coiled up. I’m not sure what I would have done about my towel rack if I didn’t find that drill. Dead and buried for the better part of a year, and he was still helping me.
I wonder if my grandfather knew how much I appreciated him. Oh, I know he knew I loved him. He was my grandpa, and a good grandpa at that. He would take me to parks, and let me have french fries and a chocolate milkshake for lunch, so of course I loved him. But there was more to it than that. And I hope he knows it.
I turned out the lights, and locked the garage.