On my grandfather and grapefruit

A grapefruit I ate back in 2008, I think.

In my universe, there is nothing quite like a perfect grapefruit. I had one yesterday at lunch and was rushed to a very specific–and yet seemingly random–prayer for a person: my paternal grandfather.

I have only seen him a few times in my life. Papa John now lives in Indianapolis with his third wife. He suffers from rapidly progressing Alzheimer’s. Despite only having seen him a dozen or so times, the recollection of his voice is very clear to me. Recalling the mischievous twinkle in his eyes is not difficult, because I see it so often in my own father’s eyes.

Since I was young, I have always reflected upon what a strange thing it is to be a stranger to your own grandfather. He knows my name, but I imagine he does not even know that anymore. He is the man of mystery, the significant relative cloaked in shadow. He never called, never wrote. We had to trek out to the bleak and yet beautiful landscape of Indiana countryside if we wanted to see him at all.

Most of what I know about Papa John is wrapped up in late-night fables from Dad about his mythical childhood in the Midwest. I know that he owned a small airport in a great big field. I know that he was a bodybuilder, a used car salesman with a weakness for younger women. I know that he was probably a difficult father to have, and yet I have never doubted the love my father had for him when he spoke about Papa John. And I know that he loved grapefruit.

I have loved grapefruit since I was a child and I will always remember the morning that Dad told me one simple fact: “Your Papa John loved grapefruit, too. He ate it all the time.” I was young and I clung to this one fact about my distant grandfather. It was the only connection I had with him: We both loved grapefruit.

Since then, I think of him whenever I eat it. I don’t ever put sugar on it, just like him. I eat it with an impatient eagerness. (Mrs. Whitman knew of my love for grapefruit and she gave me a beautiful set of silver grapefruit spoons when I was only 16. She told me to save them for when I got married, but I used them anyway). So, I keep eating grapefruit and thinking of him. I wonder how he is and I say a short prayer right before a jet of grapefruit juice shoots me in the eye.

The landscape of my father's childhood: Ladoga, Indiana