January 28, 2005
When I was in high school my little brother received a call from a man with a New York accent claiming to be our grandfather. "You're not my grandfather," my brother said and hung up.
The only grandfather we knew lived in Mexico, my dad's dad. My mother's father was dead. According to my mom he had been a bad guy and had left her family when she was a child. She never actually detailed how he had died, "I don't talk about him" she would say, but that's the impression she left. Only when asked questions directly would she parcel out small fragments of information. He was Irish. He was in the Navy. He had blue eyes. He left Queens for California. Eventually she would would change the subject.
His name was Francis Peter and to this day I've never seen a picture of him.
That afternoon in 1983 the man on the phone kept calling. It was a little bit scary so we took the phone off the hook. My mom returned home and answered a call. She shooed us out of the room and closed the door. About an hour later she emerged clearly shaken. It was indeed her father. He was dying and wanted to visit. It had taken him 3 years to track us down.
My mom called her lawyer, a big bear of a man with a gravely Texas twang to warn her father never to call again. He never did. About a year later we received word that he had died. He had been living in San Francisco...alone apparently; a park ranger. Before he died he had put together a large box of things he wanted to give my mom, it would arrive a few weeks later.
The box was a crate made of wood. Well made and heavy packed. Notable was the address, hand lettered in black paint with a sure hand. Big old fashioned looking cursive.
Within 30 minutes of it's arrival at our house , the box was on a truck headed towards the city dump. It was unopened. I didn't think throwing it out was right, but I knew that on this issue I would have no sway. My mom never mentioned the incident again.
Still, even today, half a life later, I wonder...