Papa Bernie died. And I cry. Two months ago, today. Even now I cry. My throat constricts and I don’t know how to write. I feel like this grief must be hidden away. It’s too private. Too sad. Too hard.
Papa Bernie died. I can’t find the words to write about it, but I know I need to write. I’ve been barely functioning, filling my brain with binge-watching blah television. I’ve been hunkered down in my apartment, only leaving to walk a dog or stay with a cat. I find solace in creature comforts right now, it’s easier than engaging in the human world.
Papa Bernie died. And I felt sadness. A clear sadness. The end of a generation, he was one of the great generation. The end of scritches on my neck and his shoe-horns decorating the entryways. The end of breakfast toast and stubborn retorts. I’m the last in the bloodline of Schors—what does that even mean?
Papa Bernie was a man of few words but had a strong presence. I remember the first time I ever flew on an airplane by myself—it was to visit Papa a month or so after Grandma Marion had passed away. I was 10, or maybe 12, I can’t remember. I felt so proud; I was an official traveler. I could go anywhere in the world on my own. The big house in Canada felt even bigger without Grandma. Her navy-blue had touched every corner of it. I remember that Papa shuffled around the house humming and whistling. I remember thinking he was filling all that space with sound. We made inventive sandwiches with cucumbers, and creative milkshakes with fresh summer cherries. I remember filling the space by talking and talking and talking and talking.
Papa Bernie was a man of the woods. He was an expert fire-starter, tent builder, tarp proper, and knot tier. I learned to love hiking and mountains and the breath of air that exists above tree line and to recognize the sound a pika makes screeching over the rocks. Their love of the outdoors led him and my Grandma to move to Canmore, so they could always be surrounded by mountains.
Papa Bernie was a fixer. He built a little cabin with his own two hands and was always tinkering. Every tool had its place, every spare screw had its home. He seemed to always have a piece of twine to tie, or a Werther’s caramel, in his pocket. Gold wrappers sparkled in every crevice. He was dependable, stable as the knots he tied.
Papa Bernie had the kindest handwriting I’ve ever seen; looping cursive letters spelling out “Dentist, Tuesday 9am,” or “Milk, Eggs, Sour Cream.” He made corn-flake crusted chicken and humored us every summer and every winter when we arrived with bags, the dog, and the cat in tow. The in-between times he would call and ask, “How’s the weather in Denver?” and we would report back on the precipitation and sun and temperature. Then we’d ask ,“How’s the weather in Canmore?” and he’d describe the snow or the warmth of the summer sun or the visiting elk in the backyard.
Papa Bernie loved Cathie. And we merged our families and introduced new traditions: Christmas in Canada and berry cobbler in summer; daily dog walks framed against the Three Sisters gave us all moments to get to know each other. I gained two new step-uncles and a Tasmanian step-aunt who teased me as a loquacious kid—only to then have their own loquacious kid who became my sweet Canadian cousin. A home away from home. A place I took for granted as a child—its beauty and splendor—and now I wonder how often we’ll go back. I hope we do. My childhood in the Canadian Rockies, Papa’s final resting place.
Who will feed the ravens scraps now? Who will water Grandma’s tree? Who will plant tomatoes in June and somehow coax them to life despite the cold summers? Who will look outside and tell me what the weather in Canmore is?
I bought a thermometer so I can look out my window and evaluate the weather. I’m dreaming of a little tomato plot in Florida where we can grow all year long. I’ll learn to tie knots that keep our family intertwined with his memory. I’ll fill my jar of coins with the remnants of his travels. I’ll suck on a caramel and its sweetness will make me think of him. We’ll have to keep the fires going without him, but thankfully he taught us how to make those egg-carton fire starters.