My father’s father - my grandfather - “Dandad”- my grandmother’s husband, my great grandfather’s son - “Bus”. He stands in the kitchen of the Irvine, California home peeling a green apple as I watch through the window for bunnies on the grass down bellow. His yellow cotton shirt is worn yet crisp, a pen sticking out of the pocket. A pen that scribbles messages not to be forgotten, addresses, and grocery lists - milk, eggs, Andes Mints.
On golden afternoons I ride with him to the store. I’m 7, 8, 9. I bounce on the white leather in the backseat of the Cadillac. Bus swivels some knobs on the stereo and familiar Frank Sinatra glides from within the speakers. I’m confused when someone calls him “Bus”. I’m still too young to grasp the codes that indicate relationship. To me he is “Dandad”, a name created by my eldest cousin when “grandad” proved to be too many sounds for his baby mouth to form all at once. Before that he was “Buster” then “Bus”. This too is a nickname. He uses nicknames for all of us and seems to prefer them. Sourpuss, pickle, squirt, kitten, Princess.
He drove Navy ships in WW2. He teaches us to say “yes sir” and to keep our elbows off the table when we eat. We obey and he quickly loses the stern voice and a chuckle returns. His guns are stored in the locked closet behind the closet where we keep our toys. I find them one day. I look at them but I don’t touch. I return once more to look but now the closet is locked.
In the evenings we sprawl on the carpet in the den playing Candy Land and eating peeled green apples with salt. We drink sprite on ice from glasses with leather around the bottom. Mine is a miniature version of his. My little brother is on the couch in footed pajamas munching Andes Mints. I climb into the white leather lazy boy beside Dandad and ask about his tattoo. I can’t remember now but in my mind it is a blurry anchor. I prod at his tan skin trying to make out what it is. He clears his throat. The ink has traveled. He gets a far away look and talks about big ships he used to drive. The grandfather clock in the den ticking and ticking. Some time after ten I fall into bed in the room with the teddy bear wallpaper. Dandad tucks me in and promises Mickey Mouse pancakes for breakfast and turns out the light.
When I’m 13 I visit his hospital room. My very pregnant stepmother and bleary eyed father stand beside me. I’ve just finished dance practice. I’m on a competitive team. I’m in the eighth grade. My father packs my lunches and scribbles notes on the paper napkins he tucks inside the brown bag. I’ve just had my first kiss. Dandad asks me if I was able to get the dance shoes I’d been needing. I nod and take his hand in mine. His bare chest is speckled with age spots and wires and tubes are stuck to his skin. His heart is radiating love like a bulb that shines brighter and begins to smoke, threatening to catch fire just before giving out.
My grandmother, my father and my two aunts scatter his ashes at sea near Crystal Cove where they once spent entire summers camping on the shore. On calm afternoons you’ll find my father there. Barefoot on his boat. Drifting in the waves and lifting a beer to the sky. Yesterday I visited the ocean. A dolphin swam by and I said “hello Dandad,” and he disappeared beneath the surface and a spout of water shot up in the distance as if in response.