I never knew that much about grandfather Nicolas when he was still alive. Mostly because of the fact that he barely ever visited us. Grandfather Nicolas and his wife, Granny Liesl, lived in Berlin for most of their married life until they moved to Portsmouth in the UK a year or so before Grandfather died. When they did visit us during birthday parties or Christmas, or just whenever Granny would manage to drag Grandfather out of his tool shed in their backyard, I remember Grandfather being a quiet, somber person. My mother, who was his third daughter, would urge me to talk to him, ask him how he is like or ask him to tell me stories of his life in Vienna as a young boy. But I would always be too scared to approach him. He had these sunken brown eyes that, whenever I looked at them, made me feel sad suddenly, as if a chill went through my skin. His voice was low and raspy, and he always wore long sleeved white cotton shirts and chocolate brown pants. When my Granny was busy talking to Mom, I would sometimes watch Grandfather just sit on the rocking chair on the porch, smoking a pipe and staring at the sunset.
Grandfather Nicolas died three months after my twelfth birthday. We got the news at around 3:46 AM on a Saturday morning; I remember, because my mother screamed so loud I thought it was my alarm clock and I stared at the time. My mom screamed and cried and wailed and it frightened me so much that I fell to the ground sobbing. My dad had rushed to her side and they sat on the floor next to the telephone in the living room, my mother sobbing uncontrollably onto my dad’s shoulder. I watched my dad rock my mom’s body back and forth like a baby, constantly telling her “It’s okay, honey, it’s okay, it’s okay” over and over again until the words no longer sounded like actual words. My dad saw me watching from the top of the stairs. He looked at me, and even when it was dark that morning, I saw tears glistening on his cheeks. “Laura,” he said to me, his voice breaking. With it I felt like my own heart break too; my own father, who I saw to be the strongest man in the world, my and mom’s Superman, was weakened.
“Laura,” he said again. “Grandpa’s gone.” I swallowed hard and yet I didn’t know what to say. At his words, my mother sobbed even louder until it sounded like it was screaming. Dad was near bursting into tears as well. He just looked me in the eyes.
“Help,” he said. “Help your mother. Help me.”
I could no longer just stand there and watch. I ran down the stairs and huddled up next to my mother and father. My father wrapped his arm around me and held me close. I buried my face to his chest next to my mother, and she looked at me briefly and whispered with all the pain in her eyes and in her heart:
“Papa. My papa.”
I cried and cried alongside my mother for what felt like years that early morning, my father sobbing as he kissed and caressed our heads and backs.