Monday, September 17, 2012

The Mail Order of Loneliness

I was 18 when my grandparents left the only house I had ever known them to live in.

I grew up with visits to this house overlooking the ocean just outside of Vancouver. I can still recall how the bathroom smelled like Old Spice because of the vintage glass bottles that my grandpa kept on the counter, and how the wallpaper was fuzzy in the fashion of the '70s.

I loved visiting my grandparents. It was always the little things that made the visits so special. Like the old red wagon, a survivor of my mother's childhood, or how there would always be a bowl of pickles at lunchtime.

It fell to me to accompany my mother to pack up the house the summer of 2003. I know I wasn't much help and mostly wandered off on long meandering runs in order to avoid some of the heavier grunt work.

On one of the occasions that I deigned to help with sorting through stuff to keep and stuff to chuck we came upon a gigantic stash of mail order goods. And when I say gigantic I mean decades worth of packages, most of them unopened.

At first I didn't understand why grandpa had spent years ordering junk off of the television. And why when he received the order didn't even open the package. Ripping open envelope after envelope I had an unsought history lesson of what was for sale by cheque or mail order in the '80s.

My aunts and uncles said that grandpa had a problem. That the constant ordering was something akin to an addiction. It hits me hard now, nine years later, that my grandpa was simply lonely. That ordering things that he didn't necessarily want meant that something would come in the mail for him. Something to remind him that he still existed.

Maybe I'm editorializing. My grandpa died just over a year ago so I can't ask him. I'm not sure why I never did in the years after I discovered his secret. Perhaps I felt like I was protecting him, perhaps I just didn't care until he was gone and by then it was too late.

I'm thinking about this now because I just blew a bunch of money on clothing on the internet, a more modern but no less lonely version of my grandfather. I just moved to the small town of Cranbrook for a job. A job I love but in a place that feels, at times, extremely isolating.


At the culmination of each visit my grandparents would stand on the front stoop and wave goodbye until our van slipped out of sight. I've known for years that I'll never have the experience of visiting grandma and grandpa again, but I've never wished so hard that I could send my grandpa a letter.

To let him know that he was never alone.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't know you had a blog! This is pretty good.

    My Grandma had the same issue, but for her it was just buying things. She like to buy things for people. Movies, Tapes, Statues, Figurines, whatever popped into her head. She's battling cancer now and as she approaches the sunset of her life, I look at some of the things she gave me over the years, including a pink shirt. And while I always loathed that shirt, I wear it from time to time now. Just to keep me thinking of her.