My grandfather rifles through his separate, wooden armoire, which buttresses the stone gray wall of his bedroom. Most of the clothes are suits. He loves suits. And because he loves suits, I love suits. I affectionately call him, “Papa.” I do not know my biological father. He, thus, plays the role. He is my disciplinarian, caretaker, teacher, mentor, idol.
On a recent trip to New York City for my graduate school graduation, my grandfather and I talk non-stop about cars as we race back to my apartment from the airport. He drives fast, but always in control. I do too. My mom and granny are in the backseat. My mother fails numerous times to join our conversation. My granny reassures her that any future attempts will also be futile. “When they get together, it’s like they speak a language that only they can understand. Sit back and enjoy it,” she counsels.
I sit on the corner of the bed, anxiously anticipating what he is doing. Is he looking for something for me, I think, remembering that today is my thirteenth birthday. He probably hid my gift in there so I could not find it in my exploration of the home during my visit. His big hands and arms easily push suit after suit out of his way, while looking for it.
During a phone call with my grandmother, I ask what my life would have been like if I continued to live with them. She pauses. “You wouldn’t be a teacher like you are now, that’s for sure. You would have been a mechanic or something in the field no doubt.” Papa is a car and truck mechanic, and she knows that everything he does I wish to emulate. So she understands that I would have gladly followed his lead and become a mechanic.
“Found it!” he proudly proclaims. He slowly spins towards me to show the possession. “What is it?” I repeatedly ask, waiting to see what lies in his hand. A purple suit. A beautifully too large dry graped colored suit. The broad shoulders seemingly extend to forever, mirroring his wide build. My skinny, narrow thirteen old frame can never fully fill it out, I think to myself, thankful for my slender body. He explains, as he lays the suit on the bed, that as a child, I once asked if I could have it. Since that moment in the mid 80s, he has kept the suit away from his steady rotation of suits, unwearable until the moment I claim it.
In 1996, I recognized that the suit did not match my sensibility. In 2011, I know that it no longer fits the current style. However, when I think back on this memory, I most struck by my Papa’s love. The love to no longer wear one of his favorite suits. The love to value and cherish my youthful opinion. The love to preserve that suit for me in order to fulfill my childhood desire. The love to fulfill his promise to me.
I admiringly want to have that same kind of purple suit love.