Last week, it was me and my mom’s birthday. It was on Thursday, April 18. For us, it has become a tradition of ours to have breakfast together at either Denny’s or Pamela’s. On that day, we couldn’t decide what we wanted to have that day. We kept going back and forth with each other, but we eventually decided to go with Denny’s. When we got to Denny’s, we were directed and seated at a booth. My mom told our waitress that it was our birthday. Our waitress couldn’t believe it because my mom looked so young, and I just looked older. My mom and I joked around with her a little bit, and our waitress assured us that our breakfasts would be free. During our time together at Denny’s, my mom and I talked, laughed and enjoyed each other’s company. We had conversations about our art, school, work, friends, summertime and other things. We somehow brought up my graduation and how it’s going to be next year. This made me sad because I immediately thought about my late grandpa Jerry Warfield.
I remember 10-12 years ago when I had moved from West Virginia to Pittsburgh, it was scary for me. The reason is because I didn’t have any family in Pittsburgh, and I wasn’t excited about making new friends in Pittsburgh, specifically Pleasant Hills Middle School. It was the beginning of summer when my family and I had moved from Pittsburgh, and I was dreading going to a new school. One day in June, I got a call from my grandpa. I answered it, and we talked for a little bit. He talked about the Harrison Center and playing tennis with some of my cousins. It was always fun and exciting talking to my grandpa, he just had a way of keeping you engaged and intrigued. Then, he asked me how I was doing. I told him how I was nervous about going to a new school, and how I wanted to go back to West Virginia. Then, my grandpa had this weird idea. He said, “You know what I’m gonna do, Isaiah? I’m gonna send you a letter.”
A letter? This was so random and weird to me. As an 11-year-old boy, I didn’t see the value of a letter. Nevertheless, I told my grandpa that I was excited about getting a letter from him. He asked for my new address, and I ended up giving it to him. We continued to talk and laugh with each other for just a little while. Then, we said our goodbyes. Towards the end of June, my mom tells me that I have some mail. This was odd to me. My mom told me that it was from my grandpa. I’m immediately excited because I’m expecting it to be money in the envelope, but it was sadly an 11-page letter. Why did I have a letter? I grumbled at all the papers in my hand and put them to the side.
A couple of days later, I got a call from my grandpa. We talked with each other, and he asked me if I received his letter. I told him that I did receive his letter, but I haven’t gotten the chance to read it. “Well, hurry up and read it. I want to talk to you about it. Also, I want you to send me a letter back in a couple days about the letter and about your summer so far, okay?” my grandpa said.
I thought that my grandpa was being ridiculous. He wanted me to read his manuscript and respond back to him with a letter. Why? Can’t we just talk over the phone like usual? It was completely absurd to me. Why can’t I enjoy the summer as an 11-year-old boy?
After I was done talking to my grandpa, I told my mom about my grandpa’s foolishness. I was expecting her to be on my side, but she was disloyal to her 11-year-old son. She ended up siding with my grandpa. How could she betray me like that? She talked about how it would be good for me to write and even fun. Fun? Who writes for fun? What kind of sick/twisted person would just write because they wanted to? It made absolutely no sense to me.
Sadly, I was powerless to fight my mom and grandpa. I had no choice but to ruin my summer and read the massive letter my grandpa sent to me.
To my surprise, I found myself enjoying the letter my grandpa sent me. It was funny, deep, sweet and engaging. It was weird because it felt like I was actually just listening to him talk. I could hear his voice as I was reading the page, and I didn’t feel so alone. How was this possible? It felt like he was with me telling me about the Harrison Center, tennis, God, purpose and other important things. I found myself re-reading his letter and wanting to read more. The unexpected happened for me as an 11 year old.
Now comes the hard part. I had to write my grandpa back. It was a struggle for me I put a lot of time and energy in responding to his letter, and I ended up writing two pages in response to his 11-page letter. In my defense, I was intimidated by my grandpa’s writing. How could I compare? It was just important to answer his questions. Also, it was important to keep it short, sweet and to the point. I put my letter together, placed it in an envelope, took it to the mailbox and dropped it in the mailbox.
A couple of days passed, and my grandpa called to let me know that he received my letter. Surprisingly, we talked longer than usual. We actually talked for a few hours. I was talking to him about certain parts in his letter, and he talked about my letter. He said that he really enjoyed reading it and was looking forward to my next letter. Sadly, my mom had to cut our conversation short because she needed her phone. I didn’t have my own phone like my little sisters did when they were my age. The times have changed.
Anyways, my grandpa and I wrote to each other all summer, and we had longer conversations with each other. It became a norm for us. In addition, I was writing more than the two pages to him, and it started becoming fun and interesting to write. My mom saw how much I was writing and suggested that maybe one day I would grow up to be a writer or maybe even an author. Me a writer? An author? That was ridiculous to me. I would never be writer, I was going to be an engineer or do something with math. I loved math. At 11 years old, I couldn’t imagine writing all the time. What kind of person would just write at ungodly hours for no reason? The devil is a liar if you think I’m gonna be that person. I’m certainly not going to be a writer. It just wasn’t going to happen for me.
I continued to write more to my grandpa during my time at middle school, and he continued to write to me. We weren’t writing as frequently like we did in the summer, but it was still important for us to write to each other. Then, I found myself writing to myself and finding myself in my own, safe zone.
In high school, I quickly discovered that I hated math with a passion. Math had deceived me with its simplicity through geometry and algebra. I learned math’s true colors when I had taken Honors Pre-Calculus in high school. It was complex, difficult and incompatible to me. Writing was always simple to me, and we had a relationship that I took for granted. I decided in high school that I wanted to commit to writing. I wanted us to be more than just close friends. We had something special, and I needed it in my life. We were meant to be together.
Eventually, my grandpa and I stopped sending letters to each other. I don’t remember why we stopped, and I wish I knew. However, I do remember one of the last few letters that he wrote to me. It was a letter about me graduating high school, then college. He wrote that he couldn’t wait to see me graduate high school and knew that I was going to do great things in college. It was a letter about not being afraid of the future and having faith that God will always be with me. I’m thankful and blessed to have received that letter, and I’ll always cherish it in my life.
So, when my mom mentioned my graduation at Denny’s, I immediately thought about one of the last few letters my grandpa sent to me. I wished that he was here right now to see me graduate next year. Nevertheless, I remember that he’s in a better place and no longer suffering from dementia. I have to be at peace with that and know in my heart that I’m making him proud.
At Denny’s, my mom and I ended up getting a grand slam, and I immediately laughed because I thought about my grandpa. I laughed and told my mom, “You know, my grandpa wouldn’t touch any of this stuff. He would be wondering where the oatmeal was.”
My mom laughed with me, and she agreed that my grandpa was an extremely healthy man. He was active, played tennis and ate healthy. He was a ridiculously, healthy old man.
I don’t know why my grandpa decided to write letters to me, but I’m so thankful that he did. It opened me to a whole, new world for me at such a young age. In the end, I wish that I can have those days back where I wrote letters to my grandpa.
Thank you for taking the time to read “Letters to My Grandpa.”
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On Thursday, I will be sharing the short story “Basketball Shorts.”