The Oddnivore comes running in from the back yard, his bare feet slapping against the wood, legs pumping with his urgency to reach me. He is holding a pea pod, a barely viable pea pod, with six or seven tiny peas bumping up one edge. He stands by the couch, breaks the end off, and pulls out a pea. He looks at it a moment, then places it in his mouth. He chews.
Is it good?
He nods, a solemn nod. Then he hands me the remainder of the pod. “This is for you.”
I take the pea pod and split it open—on its more traditional hinge this time—as his legs pump, feet slap, body propels him away.
Six baby peas, disbursed in an even three-three split on each side of the pod, stare up at me. The pod, whose bottom third has been ripped off in nearly a straight line by the zealous motion of the Oddnivore, now looks something more like a curved stained glass window; a bishop’s miter; what I imagine the Ten Commandments looked like. Now open, now instructive: Eat the peas.
I eat gluttonously, obeying and sinning. And the peas are both sweetness and sting.
In the foyer of the church on funeral day, we bunch together, Dad’s section of the family line, my sister the only omission. She’s in Georgia—Michigan is too far, even for Grandpa’s goodbye. But even an incomplete clump saves us from singularity.
My step-grandmother walks toward us. We call her by her name—Louise—step-grandmother, step-grandma too cumbersome, suggesting her place in the family is still periphery. But Grandma Eilers died when I was two. And Louise was folded in soon after. She is part of us now.
Louise holds envelopes and hands one to Dad. For Erin. Hands me an envelope. They’re letters your grandpa wrote last year. My eyes well. No crying. All criers and Democrats will be removed. She is joking about Grandma. We laugh, and I wipe my eyes.
You cancelled out my vote, didn’t you? Grandma would accuse Grandpa on election days, suspecting Grandpa of closeted Republicanism. I try to hear Grandma’s voice, though it’s nowhere in my memory. Too young when she died.
I bite my lip and grip the small white envelope. It’s sealed. I didn’t bring my purse into the church, so I don’t know where to put it. I blight the envelope with a fold and slide it into my pocket. Forgive me, Grandpa. But then, you were a man who wore pants with patches and soil smudges. A crease seems allowed. I will read the letter later, in a setting where I can imagine Grandpa as I need him to be.
In his coffin, Grandpa is too clean. His wrinkled skin has the same perfected sheen as the porcelain dolls he and Louise gave my sister and me every Christmas when we were young.
That’s the best Dad’s hair has ever looked. Uncle Mark is joking but his eyes widen and mouth straightens when his laugh fades. We are standing several feet from the open casket. I can neither stop looking at Grandpa nor can I make myself approach him.
I am afraid of this clean man with the tidy hair, whose mouth is set in an unmoving line, not unfriendly but too still, whose eyes stay closed behind his glasses, whose head is set at an angle that isn’t particularly strange or unnatural but somehow seems to be.
The stillness, the cleanness… Not for the man who turned his entire backyard into a garden plot.
Visits to Grandpa’s were prefaces to a garden tour. Dad following his dad, me following mine. Up from the table, or the stiff living room couch that discouraged us from settling long, out to the backyard through the creaking kitchen screen door. Down the worn steps, past the black and white-pawed Nellie-cat, the all-black Bruno, them on their way to the food dish on the steps, or the one in the kitchen if they could time their leaps with the hesitant shudder of the screen door. Out the garage. Around the side of the house. I sometimes ran my hand along the brown siding as we walked, waiting to turn the corner. Then…there! The garden lured us to it with its intoxicating tangles of green above brown. We walked behind Grandpa, but something else led us.
Now we were at the tomatoes, now the peas. Look at this, Jake! Grandpa had made me his, his boy with a word. See there? We’d rustle leaves till we found a heavy pod, then we’d break it twice: once from the vine, once from itself, and it would open in my palm and give us itself in sweet, crispy bursts.
This year, Grandpa lay in a hospital bed when the peas went in. Uncle Tom planted them.
Grandpa’s thinned arms—they have wasted away in the weeks leading up to this moment—make his wrists look especially large. He’s even more Big Wrists now, the only man my father’s ever seen crush an upright pop can in his hand without denting the side first.
After the funeral, after the burial, after he is planted in a way that never brings back anything, I want to ask for a bit of Grandpa’s garden—I want to tend the peas or blend a scoop of his soil into the newly filled but generic raised beds that wait for me at home. But I don’t. Surely this is the wrong time to speak of taking, though I do anyway as I leave the funeral luncheon with the ghost of countless embraces still on my skin.
The Oddnivore never met my Grandpa. This is a regret. What is it about the weight of distance that legitimizes the excuse not to travel; what is it about children that compounds that decision not to visit, when it should be the opposite? New babies should have us running for the car.
But we stay, and we root, root, root in our Indiana soil. The Newcomer is due in three days, our second child to be born in this state. Roots will curl further.
At my request, The Oddnivore brings me a pile of peas, heaping them upon the bulge that is his sister. I pop open the pods, eating even the embryonic nubs the three-year-old eye didn’t think to exclude, didn’t think to leave on the vine for another couple days of growth. They were there, after all—why not choose them? They taste as sweet now as they will later. We should grab them while we can.