Part II: Journeys (Chapter 29)

ST. PATRICK’S DAY, the night before his funeral, Pappa comes to me in what appears to be a dream, but I know it’s not.

Dreams feel more surreal and symbolic –

Pappa’s visit feels concrete:

I’m walking up a large hill near St. Boniface, my old grade school. Somehow, I know this is where we have agreed to meet, now it feels right to be in this place.

It’s a bright sunny day – looks like October, my favorite month, blue sky, scarlet and yellow leaves, not an icy day in March.

I’m walking uphill when I feel him behind me.

I turn around.

He dashes up the hill like a young man and catches up to me.

“Not bad, Sammy Anne, this spiritual life,” he says, not even a little out of breath. He still looks the same – balding, gray hair, lined skin – but he has a spring in his step I don’t remember. “I just couldn’t leave without saying some things to you,” he says.

“I was hoping to get to Sioux City before you, well, you know –”

“– Died. It’s okay to say it. I was ready, though I was hoping to hang around long enough to catch a few words with you. You know, you really should work on that fear of flying.”

“I know.”

“What’s the worst that could happen?”

“The plane would crash, and I’d have to join you here forever.”

“Damn right! How’s Doug and Nicole?”

“Just fine. Nicole’s getting so big – almost four now – and Doug, well, he got laid off again, but we’re going to be okay –”

“It’s not going to last, this thing with Doug –”

I feel myself tearing up. “I know.”

“I can’t tell you anymore – as it is, I might be putting in some extra community service time for shooting off my mouth. But you’ve got to be prepared.”

“I’ll make it last as long as possible.”

“Yes, I know.” Pappa points toward the horizon. “Let’s go over there, by that wall. I need to talk to you before I go.”

We are sitting on what appears to be a cloud.

“You know, when you die, life and death become clear, like someone lifting a black curtain from your eyes. You get smart real fast. I know now.”

I don’t want to hear any more. Even in death, Pappa should not know the details of my life.

“I’m sorry if I didn’t understand you better.”

“It’s all in the past.”

“I should’ve been there more –”

“It’s okay.”

“That bullshit with Dan and that creepy chiropractor –”

“Please...I don’t want to talk about it.”

“I knew there was something funny about that doctor.”

“Stop, Pappa!”

“Even said something to your Nana about him, but –”

I put my hands over my ears. I want to go back to Sioux City, away from this place where there are no secrets. “STOP IT!” I burst into tears.

He wraps his arms around me and strokes my hair. “Now, now. It’s okay.”

“There’s just so much going on right now.”

“I understand. But don’t you know you’ll always be my little girl…I can’t stand it when...?”

“I’m a woman now.”

“I can’t stand it!” He buries his head in his hands, his body wracking with sobs.

I wrap my arms around him.

“It’s okay,” I say, my turn for comforting.

We hold each other for a long time, realizing this will be the last time we’ll see and touch each other. I wish we had done it more in life.

Even this time together grows short.

As if he has read my mind, Pappa pulls away from me and looks at his watch, a duplicate of the VFW watch I have inherited. “We still have some things to discuss.”


“Please. It’s important.”

“We’ll see.”

“It’s just that your Nana and me, well, we never knew the kind of kid you were. We just thought you were ordinary, maybe even a little on the stupid side –”

“I know.”

“We were wrong. We never knew what was going on inside your head.”

“No one did.”


“Things could’ve been different –”

“It’s moot. Besides, you were what you were, and I am what I am. I simply got dropped among the wrong people, that’s all. It happens.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. I still love you.”

“Oh, God, I love you, too.”

“Just tell me one thing....”


“How come we never took Ruby home with us?”

I might as well have taken a whip to Pappa.

He shrinks from me, turns away, folds his arms. “You’ll have to ask your Nana.”

I won’t be getting the answers I need, at least not from him.

“Let’s walk,” I say, touching his shoulder.

He turns around. His eyes are red.

As we stroll along the periphery of my grade school, we pause.

I tug at the chain link fence surrounding the school property, but the links have no substance, like grasping at air.

“I remember walking you here that first day. Your little hand was shaking so much.”

“I was scared shitless.”

“I loved those times. You were so innocent –”

“Please, Pappa!”

“I’m not going to pry, Samantha. I just need to tell you some things.”


“I haven’t always lived a good life,” Pappa says. “You should know before anyone else does, hear it straight from me.”

My grandfather admits he was an alcoholic and how he stopped drinking back in 1935, how his bootlegging operation almost cost him his marriage to Nana, how he started the bookie business. He hints that there may have been another woman at some point in his life, but that had been long ago, even before Sal was born, and the relationship never really went anywhere.

As he reveals pieces of his life, I see another man, a younger version of Pappa, a slim man with dark brown hair and a quick sense of humor evident in his blue eyes, the swain who must have swept Nana off her feet back in the early 1920s

No longer an old man diminished by age and illness, but a young man with a bit of the devil in him.

“I’ve no regrets, Sam. I lived my life the way I needed to live it. I never felt I did anything wrong. I did what I had to do.”

And, suddenly, I realize what this otherworld visit is all about, why Pappa needed to see me one last time.

“You’re so much like me it scares me. But I’m a man; and the rules are different.”

The anger rises up in me, not for my grandfather, but because what he says is true; my road will be filled with obstacles, my life disapproved of by dowagers with wagging fingers and tongues.

“I’ll be just fine,” I say. “And I’ll live the way I see fit.”

“Oh, God. I hope so,” Pappa says, hugging me close. “Just be careful.”

“I just don’t know if I can.”

“Well, then. That’s all I’ve got to say. Time to go.” He pulls away from me. “Bye, honey.”

“Bye, Pappa.”

I turn away from him. Ahead is a hole in the fence. Somehow, I know this is the way back.


I turn around. He’s so far away now that I can barely see him, but his voice resonates clearly in my head.


“You will sing again.”


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