The Picture of Longevity
“How old is Grandpa?” Brian asked.
We were driving to Grandpa Hank’s house; actually he was Mom’s Grandpa, Great-Grandpa to my younger brother Brian and me, but everyone called him Grandpa. Apparently he wasn’t feeling well—“probably on his last legs” was how Dad put it.
“He’s about… well, I’m not exactly sure,” Mom said from the passenger seat. “How old is Hank, Richard?”
Dad thought for a moment. “I don’t know. But I do remember him saying he was good friends with Lincoln.”
Mom rolled her eyes and Brian laughed. I smiled; occasionally one of Dad’s corny jokes was actually funny.
“I don’t think he’s that old,” Mom said, “but he’s certainly up there.”
About a half hour later, we pulled onto a small street and then into a gravelly driveway. The driveway went up a slight hill and stopped just before the garage of the small house. Another car was parked there. An enormous tree towered over the house. Brian quickly hopped out of the car and raced up to the door.
“Knock, Brian,” Mom said.
Brian banged on the door and a moment later it was opened by an attractive woman probably in her early 30’s. Before she could say anything, Brian burst past her. “Bathroom!” was all he was able to say. The woman smiled.
“Hi,” Mom said, extending her hand. “I’m Wendy, Hank’s granddaughter.” The woman shook her hand.
“Hi, I’m Jessica, Hank’s friend.”
I saw my parents exchange a look. They never said anything but I was old enough to realize what “friend” meant. It seemed like every time we came to visit, Grandpa had a new “friend.” Apparently he was very good at convincing women that he was loaded and didn’t have much time left. The only problem was that he wasn’t loaded, at least no one in the family thought so; so when the girls found out, they’d leave and he would have to find another one.
“Hi, Jessica. This is my husband, Richard, and my son, John. The one who ran past you was Brian.”
“It’s nice to meet all of you. Come inside! I was just making lunch. Are you hungry?”
“Yes,” Brian said emphatically, emerging from the house.
As we ate tuna sandwiches, Jessica told us about Hank. He had been sick for a while, nothing too serious, but at his age pretty much anything was serious.
A little while later we went in to see him. He was sitting up supported by many pillows in a large bed. He was wearing blue pajamas and they were practically hanging off him.
“Hey, Grandpa Hank,” Mom said and went over and hugged him gently.
“Oh, hello, sweetie,” Hank said in a raspy voice. “How are you?”
“Good. How are you feeling?”
“Oh, ya know, I’m still hangin’ in.”
I glanced at Jessica and saw a slight look of frustration. She caught my gaze and quickly smiled.
After my parents talked with Hank for a little while, he summoned Brian and me over to his bed. From that close I could see the incredible amount of lines on his face. With a shaky hand he reached into a drawer and brought out two big Hershey bars, his customary gift for us.
“Thanks, Grandpa,” we both said and he smiled.
Jessica then told us he needed some rest but we could see him a little later. As Mom talked with her in the kitchen, Dad and Brian started up a game of checkers and I just wandered around the old house. On my way back from the bathroom, I passed Grandpa’s bedroom. The door was open slightly.
“Hey, Joe,” I heard him call softly.
I pushed the door open. He smiled when he saw me. “Joe, come on in here.”
I slowly entered. “Uh, it’s John.”
“Oh yeah, John, come over here, sit down.”
I went and sat in the wicker chair by the side of his bed. “How are you, John?” he asked and started coughing.
“I’m good. Um, are you okay? Do you want me to go get Jessica?” He waved his bony hand.
“No, I’m fine.”
Just then a branch from the huge tree brushed against the window making me jump. Hank laughed.
“It’s just the redwood.” He looked at the window and sighed. “I love that old tree. You know I planted that thing.”
I grinned, thinking he was kidding.
“You don’t believe me, do ya?”
“That tree is huge, Grandpa. It has to be over a hundred years old.”
He smiled. “Look at this.” He opened the drawer next to the bed. I thought for some reason he was going to give me another Hershey bar but instead he brought out a small black-and-white photograph and handed it to me.
The faded picture showed a large man with a rugged face wearing overalls standing next to a tiny boy also in overalls. They were in a small field with some bushes and trees behind them.
“Look,” he said, pointing out the window.
I looked out the window again. Aside from the tree-line looking slightly different and a water tower in the distance, it was the exact same shot from the picture, except of course for the giant redwood tree.
My eyes widened. “So you really did plant that tree, huh?”
He grinned. “That’s right. My father put the seeds in my hand and dug a hole and I dropped them in.”
“Wow,” I said. “How old were you in this picture, 30, 40?”
“What? That’s not me! I’m the kid!”
I smiled and after he got my joke, he smiled too.
“So, how old are you, Grandpa?”
“Well, let’s see.” He started counting on his fingers. “I’m not exactly sure, but if it helps, I was good friends with Lincoln.”
He looked completely serious. I was stunned.
“But that would mean you’re-” I stammered.
“Yup, Barry Lincoln, he used to live a couple blocks from here.”
I stared at him for a few seconds and then started laughing. After a moment, he joined me. His laughter quickly turned into loud coughs and Jessica rushed into the room followed by Mom.
“Hank, are you alright?” Jessica asked.
“John, are you bothering Grandpa?”
“I’m fine,” Hank said, slipping me the picture. “The boy was just keeping me company, but I should probably get some rest now. Nice talking with you, Joe.” He winked at me and I smiled.
I put the picture in my pocket and followed Mom out of the room.
A little while later, we got back on the road to go home. Brian had fallen asleep beside me, his face smudged with chocolate.
“Hank still looks pretty good, doesn’t he?” Mom asked Dad.
“It’s amazing,” Dad said.
Just then I remembered the picture. I quickly took it out of my pocket and looked at it for a moment. Although it was a little blurry, the little kid did in fact look like Grandpa. I turned the picture over and saw something; in the dim car I had to hold it up to my face to see what it was. Written in one corner in very neat handwriting was “Daniel and Henry, April 5th, 1897.”
“I wonder how old he really is.”
I was just about to say something but then stopped. I put the picture back in my pocket and grinned.
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Portland Fiction Project
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