Moths to the Flame
I still see his teeth, lips curled back, mouth open.
That onion — it must have been an inch and a half thick,
white, a little sulfurous, a little sweet.
Let me have that, heÕd said,
and he put it back on where IÕd taken it off.
And then he took a huge bite from that poolside burger, with the onion atop,
and it was pure pleasure for both of us, he, the grandfather, and
me, the grandson.
Those summers in Springfield.
Sent for a month to my grandparents, free of schedules and cares, age
perhaps 9? On that more quantitative front, the edges of memory dim.
But on the sensory edges of recollection, ah, there I touch the true thread.
The smell of hot tomato plants, taller than I, redolent in the August sun,
next to a proud air conditioning unit, running full bore and blowing
hotter air still.
The light of Illinois midsummer suffusing all, pressing down,
leaving the neighborsÕ dog prone and panting
after a mere six retrievals of the favorite ball.
The sweet corn with butter.
The ice cream floats with real Fresca
(not that hideous, sugar-free stuff that the brand devolved into one day
when my teenage self had accidentally looked away).
The nights of Dirty Hearts with great aunts and uncles next to the bakery that
my great-grandfather came from Germany to build with a burgeoning
family the exact breadth of which was mysterious to me, but comforting
in its compass.
It came from the grill.
Next to the pool.
Child of privilege, I would swim in the country club pool while my grandfather
played 18 holes of golf with businessÉ people.
Unaccompanied for 3 or 4 hours (imagine — someone would be arrested for that
now, I supposeÉ), I made up diving games to amuse myself, and I was
baked with a tan that was so dark that even in a Wisconsin December, back home,
the lines were still starkly evident in the shower.
That day, he was turning the first 9,
and I had just ordered the burger, using his membership number, of course.
I didnÕt mind onion, but this one was so big, IÕd taken it off after the first bite.
I still taste their charred surfaces — real — hand formed, seared with charcoal flames.
That faint whiff of chlorine from the pool, the summer sun raising
further scents from the paper plate. The red tomato, the white mayonnaise.
But I was happy to share.
I was proud — proud of a strong grandfather who laughed in the face of thick onion adversity!
Some days, heÕd let me ride along on his round. (He taught me to play, actually, but that
was later.) At 9, I was a passenger in the golf cart, and a very happy one.
Scratched indelibly in? A deep bunker, below an elevated green. IÕm holding the pin.
My grandfather swings, the sand rises in the air, the ball skitters a bit,
lands on the green, long putt to come. I nod — respectable, not bad.
But he waves at me from the trap,
ŌToss that ball back to me, I can do better than that.Ķ
So I did.
And he holed it.
I thought he was the king of grandfathers.
I carried his coffin.
Many years later. In that same, hot Illinois sun.
The King is dead.
In between, ah, in between.
He gave me my grandmotherÕs car, in grad school, when the Alzheimers left her
unable to drive. Olds F-85 — so retro before that was cool.
He helped me pick out pearls
as a wedding gift for my childrenÕs mother.
He diminished, declined, made decisions that disappointed his children,
and finally succumbed to a ravening cancer that left him
That man in the open casket,
that was not my grandfather.
No, to the contrary, he lives still — heÕs laughing, handing me back the most
delicious hamburger IÕve ever eaten.
and safely in memory.
Christopher J. Cramer
July 21, 2015