I recently did a big splurge and subscribed to The New Yorker. It’s the gift that keeps on giving in ways that I hadn’t imagined. As I sat in my cozy apartment on a rainy Saturday holding an actual paper copy of said magazine, I had a visceral flashback. All it took was the wetting of my finger to get a recalcitrant page to turn and I was holding a copy of my grandfather’s beloved Saturday Evening Post, which he and I devoured as though it were our last meal on earth. He sat in his chair, smoked his pipe filled with sweet smelling cherry tobacco, and read it from cover to cover. I could even feel the stickiness of the pages on a humid summer afternoon, smell the ink, see where it rubbed off on my fingers. I loved watching him read. It was comforting somehow to a little girl whose home life was chaotic. For him, a respite from a wife who was inexplicably mad at the world. I spent as much time with him as I possibly could. As soon as he left for work I curled up in that hard chair and read the Saturday Evening Post with its Norman Rockwell covers.
My mother was a reader of paperbacks, Dad consumed two daily newspapers, and my brother read comic books. But it was Grandpa who inspired me. He looked so wise smoking his pipe, wearing his reading glasses. I wanted to be like him, patient, kind, and loving. My mother got her beautiful name, Thea, from a story he read in that magazine.
After I recovered from the shock of the realness of that memory, I got to thinking about the stories that we both read but, sadly, never discussed. And I thought of questions I wished I had asked. First I focused on reading then expanded out to more personal questions.
- Who is your favorite writer?
- Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?
- Which stories stay with you the longest?
- Do you think Rockwell really captures the lives of the majority of Americans?
- Did you ever write anything besides letters?
- What attracted you to Grandma beside her beauty?
- Do you have a secret dream?
- What was it like being in the Navy?
- What was your childhood like?
- If you had plenty of money where would you like to travel?
The question I wouldn’t ask would have been am I your favorite? I knew I was. Although, as an adult, I found out that each of his ten grandchildren thought we were his favorite. That’s how good he was. I still think I was his favorite.
Rebekah Spivey for the Poplar Grove Muse