By Clark Zlotchew
Hands all calloused and scarred, drooping moustache, reading glasses, aroma of tobacco and aftershave. cigar butt stuffed into pipe, hovering clouds of greyish smoke. Grandpa. He would bounce me on his knee while bawling out a rhythmic tune Hey! Tuli, tuli, tuli. Hey! Tuli, tuli. When I grew older, he’d regale me with stories of his travels, his adventures, his life, in the Old Country. He had traveled in heat and in cold, in rain and in snow, dusty trails and roads of mud, hauling sheets of fragile glass, in a horse-drawn wagon to jounce over bumps on the road, dodging pits in his path, along Ukraine’s plains, so vast, to carve windows to see outward, to shape mirrors to see inward. Grandma spoke of courageous deeds he was too modest to relate: Fists and bottles and blood to protect a young woman from vodka-soaked beasts garbed in human clothing, wolves in sheepish wool. Yet he was the kindest man I knew. A hard-working man. A great man. A hero. My Grandpa. Years slid by, so fast, too fast, steel blades on slickety polished ice. We talked, we chatted, ideas flowed from one to the other, streams combining into one deep pool, wars, nations, people, languages, and even me. He cared about my work, my studies, my adventures, my thoughts. My life. Damnable demon Dementia cast its baleful mind-clouding shadow, its filthy smothering shroud over him, concealing what made him him. I traveled to shave his grizzled face, leaving his nicotine-stained moustache intact. He no longer spoke to me or even uttered my name. I wondered did he even know me. I wondered but feared to know. One day I took heart and asked, “Do you know who I am?” I held my breath, awaiting his answer. His indignant response, “Of course, you're the boy who shaves me." The boy who shaves me! I turned to gaze out the window to conceal my moistened eyes. The sky turned from bright blue to dark grey. The air felt heavy, electrically charged. A storm threatened.