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  • Along with Suebaby, my biological grandmother, Grandpa Joe was the first person to ever meet me. On that cold and lonely November day, when my 20-year-old mother gave birth to me after being in a maternity ward for more than six months, she was allowed to call them to come visit her—after she went through childbirth.

    He may have been the first person to meet me, but I feel as though I’ve never truly been able to meet him.

    Twenty-one years went by after my birth. Twenty-one years in which I was raised in a loving and wonderful adoptive family, but always wondered about those whose roots I shared. I am grateful those years between our meeting were not any longer. As one of the lucky adoptees who has reconnected with my biological mother, life has also been kind enough to grant me a (mostly) warm and loving relationship with her and her family. By the time I came into her life, though, Grandpa Joe’s Parkinson’s Disease had already taken much of the man he once was.

    And what a man! He was an engineer who could build anything, from bridges to buildings to a truck turned into a camper and nicknamed “The Turtle” for hauling his family on cross-country camping trips. He was strong, stubborn and quick-witted. He was a storyteller who could captivate a room with his twinkling blue eyes and punchy tales.

    Every now and then, I would catch glimpses of that man when I went to visit over Christmas. My biological mother said he always tried extra hard when I was around. I would sit at the foot of his bed with my hands drawn together, my half-brothers and sister off in another room being kids. His hand would shake as he talked, and his mouth would sometimes struggle to express what his mind was thinking, but he always kept going. There’s the governor he met and the time “The Turtle” was in a parade and the campground property he bought for almost nothing out in Illinois.

    I like to think that I am a writer because of him. That I can keep his stories going through my own words…if I only knew more of them.

    He passed away recently, a week after entering the hospice, and just a few days before my other grandpa died, the one I was raised with. Both broke my heart a little, but at least with Grandpa Spindler, I'd had all those summers of homemade ice cream, those Christmas Santa suits his friends dressed up in, the beautiful woodworking, and all those birthday cakes we shared.

    Christmas 2010 was the last time I spoke with Grandpa Joe. I wrote him this poem, as a way of expressing all that I love, and all that I will never know.

    “To forget one’s ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without a root” -ancient Chinese proverb

    by Sara

    Trees without roots
    cannot stretch
    they grow branches reaching
    for lessons in history.

    Your eyes saw mine first
    blue and brief
    like the sea at night.
    Now, they manifest green
    emerald girl in an emerald city
    coming home to see your eyes.

    I want to know you—
    and I do, in my dreams:
    He who shares stories,
    head-shaking smilers
    I could sit still
    do nothing but listen
    for days on end.
    She who laughs easy,
    delights in giving
    A Southern Belle,
    the twinkle in her eye
    a light of my heart.

    I want to remember you—
    links to my ancestors,
    the source of my brook.
    Our time!
    is a tiny parcel
    a glimpse of a gift
    wrapped and hidden
    as vital
    as a home’s foundation
    soul-covered bricks
    cement, drying.

    I want to learn from you—
    successes like camping
    one on one with the stars
    emblems of triumph and happiness.
    I want to grow because of you
    Your failures, big and small
    admitted—or not.

    Trees without roots
    have no thirst for water
    they don’t know
    (but I do)
    the nourishment they’re missing.
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