My grandfather never read fiction

Fri Mar 8, 2013

I’m currently reading the excellent book Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card. In case you haven’t read it, the speaker investigates a deceased person’s life and then delivers a true account of the person - a sort of honest eulogy if you will - where the truth is told in place of polite praise, even if it hurts.

Anyway, this idea got me thinking about my grandfather. I remember the moment clearly. We were sitting on an outdoor deck watching eagles circling through the blue sky. At the time I was reading a lot. Mostly as an escape - you know, a pleasant diversion - the reason most people read books. I asked him about what sort of books he liked to read and he told me that he had never read a work of fiction. I don’t remember the next part exactly, except for the fact I was quite startled. As if he had just told me he had never eaten food or bothered to take a breath.

But that was the kind of man he was. He was rooted in reality. He’d built his own car from scratch. He faked his age so he could run away and join the navy before he turned 16. I even recall an old picture of him taming a lion with a whip. He was spartan and didn’t believe in embellishment, or in people’s imaginings. For my birthday, he couldn’t stand buying Hallmark cards with fanciful words written in them, so he’d cut out a picture of an animal on a cereal box and paste in on an envelope. He did this for every birthday that I remember.

But, he also loved to dance. And I think that’s where I can start to comprehend how he’d never read a novel. He couldn’t care less about carefully orchestrated words on a page, but orchestrations of two bodies gliding through space - that was his escape. He danced a lot. I’m not trying to speak for the dead - I just think that it’s odd, the sort of things we remember.

I do think everybody deserves to have something real written about them though. Not some generic fluff about how wonderful a person was.

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