Family History (Maternal)
Lisa Summe (University of Cincinnati, USA)
When I was three, Grandpa taught me what to do
when I only had an 8-pack of crayons—
no pink for the kitten’s nose, the watermelon, or Mom’s lips.
I sat on his lap, holding the red crayon, “press lightly,” he said.
“Then it won’t look so red.”
Mom said Grandpa went on vacation.
Grandma said it was a really long trip.
Dad said the planes got mixed up—
they weren’t sure where he was,
but he would call soon.
Grandpa was always still on vacation.
I thought he must be really far away,
probably Hawaii. I pictured him
with a sunburn and a floral shirt,
wondering why Grandma wasn’t with him.
Grandpa wasn’t coming back.
I realized this when I looked at the pictures on Grandma’s wall.
Someone put smiley face stickers over Grandpa’s face in every picture.
He looked happy.
When I was older and spent the night at Grandma’s and knew she was asleep
I would sneak down the steps with a flashlight to look at the pictures
because I wondered what Grandpa looked like.
I slowly peeled back a pink smiley face to see his pink smiley face.
This Boy’s Life came on TV in the basement one night.
Dwight got a mustard jar out of the garbage can
and shoved it in Toby’s face.
“Is this gone? Does this look gone to you?”
Toby got his neck grabbed and mustard in his eye.
Mom went to the bathroom.
She didn’t want to watch TV anymore.
I can’t remember how old I was, or what exactly I asked her
but I found out a few things about Grandpa:
• Grandpa would chase Mom and her siblings with his belt every day after work.
• The buckle hurt.
• Grandpa almost killed my uncle Jim,
o details were omitted.
• Grandpa wasn’t an alcoholic.
I can picture my mom with her club feet,
her Forrest Gump leg braces
clanking and getting caught on things
while she was trying to hide under the bed.
I wondered why Grandma didn’t do anything about it.
It never occurred to me that she was afraid of him too.
Grandpa’s vacation began in Montana
to take my uncle David to the Army.
When Grandpa got home
Grandma was somewhere else.
The phone would ring all afternoon
after I got home from kindergarten.
Mom cried upstairs.
I knew it was Grandpa.
I remembered the stickers on his face
and knew he was bad now.
Mom said Grandpa doesn’t
know where we live.
A divorce happened at some point and I heard Grandpa remarried.
Maybe he changed. I just couldn’t picture someone so old being so mean.
Mom said Grandpa is in assisted living and divorced again.
She knows where he is because my aunts and uncles forgave him
and talk about him and bring their kids around him.
Jim reads the bible to him on the weekends.
When Grandpa helped me color, I smiled.
Mom watched football on TV and smiled.
Dad read the sports page and smiled.
Grandma did the dinner dishes and smiled.
People did regular things and smiled.
I kind of know what Grandpa looks like:
White hair, over 6’5”, big lips.
I picture him in a wheelchair,
but I might be making that up.
When I Google “Albert C. Hoopes” there are pictures of
• Albert Pujols,
• Barack Obama,
• gravestones that never have his name on them,
• a chubby boy playing the violin,
• a rooster,
But I am confident that I would recognize him
even though the last time I saw him was when we were coloring.
Sometimes I picture myself seeing him in public.
I take off my belt.
Lisa Summe is a Master’s student in the Creative Writing program at the University of Cincinnati. Her work has appeared in The Licking River Review, The Cedarville Review, Mead: The Magazine of Literature and Libations, and Catch Up. When she is not reading and writing, Lisa enjoys birthday parties and flossing her teeth.