My grandmother has a photo of me, around 2 years old, standing on the wet, multi-colored slate patio by the pool in my one-piece navy blue swimsuit trimmed in white frilly lace. Tom is standing in the blue pool water, arms outstretched, coaxing me to jump into his protective arms. I am told that I would only allow Tom to catch me. He would be the only “grandfatherly” figure I would know on either side of my family.
As a child, I saw a lot of my grandmother and Tom, as we lived just next door; but as the years passed and my family moved from town to town, I grew up, and the image of that little girl standing poolside slowly faded. At some point in my youth it became clear to me that Tom was not my grandfather; simply put, he was “Tom.”
Over the years I have often wondered if Tom had been called grandfather, would my connection to him have been different. Could such a small detail have made me feel closer to him?
Tom was part of my life until the day he died, well after I had a family of my own. During the 37 years he had with my grandmother, he was there for me, attending everything from birthday parties and sporting events to my wedding and children’s christenings. Without a doubt, Tom cared for me, and yet I never felt that we fit the mold of what I conceived to be a true grandfather/granddaughter relationship.
Now at 96, my grandmother can still vividly recall details of her marriage to Tom, from his interest in the constellations to how he would tap his toes to the many jazz records he loved to play. She also recalls how much Tom loved me; I was his “best girl.” Her recollections of Tom’s love for me are so mesmerizing that I now find myself questioning the deeper impact of Tom’s placement in my life.