My grandfather, Clark Houck, Sr., passed away last night. Over the weekend he had fallen down, remained confused and generally addled, and once he was admitted to the ICU, became quite belligerent. His heart eventually gave up. My dad said they watched the monitors--he was up to 140 bpm at one point.
My brother and I spent many weekends at his house when we were children, giving my parents a night off, and giving the grandparents a chance to have a house full of kids again--something they loved. Many of my childhood memories take place in his office--the adding machine that spit out miles of white paper. I became obsessed with adding the digits 1 through 100, 1 + 2 + 3 + 4, on and on, over and over: 5,050. I am still that detailed, compulsive kid. And of course, his singular pride, probably 75 meticulously labeled photo albums, in chronological order, the entire record of the Houck Family as told in pictures, records, letters, birthday cards; anything flat would do. I think of those albums as a grand--if somewhat bulky--achievement.
My grandmother Ruth is the only grandparent I have left--other than Lola Buckingham, my surrogate grandparent who was my neighbor for fifteen years growing up in Chattanooga. I wonder about Ruth now, where she will go, what she will do with her days. She lives these days as if her ears are full of cotton. This is true both literally--she is, basically, deaf and you have to yell right at her if you want her to hear--and figuratively, having spent the last 20 years (some would say her entire life) building a kind of cottony space around her, deciding what is true and what isn't, regardless of the facts. I wonder if my perception is correct--if she feels insulated by her invented world, or if it is harsh and bright, like open nerves.
Clark had spent the last years lost, it seems, between this world and the world of his childhood, which he spoke of constantly, cherishingly, and happily. Conversation quickly turned to those stories whenever possible. If I had a wish for him, it would be that he finds himself again there, with muddy dogs galloping all around and sawdust in his eye. This may sound a bit painful--but I think it made him feel alive.
Update: The obituary can be found here.