When I was a little girl, one of my favorite things was spending the night at my grandparents’ house. They lived in a small house on Queen Anne Hill. Though back then, from my tiny eyes, it was an enormous mansion. It was so different from our cookie-cutter suburban rambler in north Seattle. When we visited, we would have to drive around until we found a place to park on the street. If we got a spot right in front, my mom would say, “God wanted us to visit.” I wasn’t convinced God was directly in charge of parking, but I kept that to myself because I was pretty sure He always wanted us to visit them. They had a tiny, steeply sloped front yard that my Grandpa mowed with a rotary cutter. I loved the sound of the blades slicing past each other as they neatly trimmed the yard. Even on the hottest day, he would be out there in a pair of slacks and a button-down shirt rolled up to reveal forearms made thick and sinewy from decades of throwing fish. Wide concrete steps led to a porch with a thick rail that I loved to perch on while watching the city street. The house was a rich brown and covered in shingle siding. It was old, and I was fascinated by the door knobs, light switches and outlets. Right inside the front door there was a shiny cabinet that housed his record player. On Sunday nights after dinner, he would listen to the news. Back then, it was filled with grainy, black and white images of the Vietnam war. I did not understand what was happening at the time, but I knew I wasn’t to talk until the stern voice of Walter Cronkite faded away. As soon as it was over, Grandpa would lift the lid on the cabinet and turn on the record player. We had to wait for him to gently drop the needle on the well-worn groves of Never on a Sunday. To the scratchy tune and my laughter, he would dance me around the room, arms raised high overhead, knees bouncing upward, feet crossing over and back. I wanted to hold onto those moments so much as a child. He had a big heart. I felt so connected to him. He was the rare adult that got me. He could tell when I was sad or scared and seemed to always know just the right thing to do. That was especially true when my parents divorced with spectacular animosity. I remember feeling like he held me closer through those years. I didn’t act out. I wanted everything and everyone to be OK. I grasped with tiny fingers any chance to make things peaceful. I think he knew that. He was especially gentle with me. I remember one night after we were all in bed, I heard a moaning sound through the heat vent. I lay completely still in the dark before moving silently to the center of the bed because, of course, monsters couldn’t reach the center of the bed. When the moaning came again, I leapt out of bed and woke him up. I remember he reached for his glasses and I was momentarily shocked that he didn’t sleep with them on. He patiently sat up and listened. He gave me a big hug and put me back in bed. He told me not to worry. And I didn’t, because I knew I could count on him. He left the house from the back door and I could hear him in the basement. I had been in the basement to help grandma with the wash before. It was dark, cold and scary. I knew for sure he was a hero if he could go down there in the dark in the middle of the night. A little while passed before he came back in. He told me everything was fine. He took me by the hand and led me to the basement. On the floor was an apple box full of kittens. The mama was watching us from the windowsill. He told me that the babies had just been born and the sound I heard was the mama. I probably would have believed him if he had just told me that everything was fine and sent me back to bed. I was glad he took the time to show me.
My grandpa lived a simple life. He loved big and loud and true. He hugged with gusto and danced with abandon. He was the solid part of my quicksand life. I learned so much from him: Sometimes a hug is all you need. Dance when you can and do it like no one is watching. Ouzo cures many ills. Listening is more important than speaking. Action speaks louder than words. Be patient and kind to children because they might not know much but they feel everything.
My Grandpa Jimmy Paris (Dimitri Heramanos Paraskevoulakos)