When I was 16 years old, I saw my paternal grandfather in person for the final time, and I didn't even know it.
He was living alone in the same house in my hometown of Winchendon, Massachusetts, which he'd shared with my grandmother since they'd gotten married in 1937. She had passed away seven years prior from cancer, just 15 days after they'd celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.
Gramps was 80 years old by then, and time had finally caught up with him. He didn't move with the strength he showed when I was a boy, and being without Gram made him quite lonely, even though his friends, daughter, and grandchildren would check on him often.
On this day, I was with my maternal grandmother, the only grandparent I have left, and we were visiting Gramps to see how he was doing.
As usual, he was sitting in his chair, telling the stories I think I've heard my whole life. Sadly, at that age, I wasn't really realizing that within a few years, he'd be gone as well, taking all those great stories with him.
I don't remember what caused him to go to the rather ordinary steel file cabinet in the corner of the room, but up he went, taking his time to open it up and pulling out something wrapped in an also rather ordinary sheet of notebook paper.
What emerged was something that until that moment, I had no idea existed, but knew it was something I wanted to have with me for the rest of my life.
It was a well-preserved roll of shelf lining paper, and upon it was a letter that Gram had written to him on a rickety old typewriter, nearly 50 years earlier.
I had always known my grandfather had served in World War II, even though I had no idea where or with which branch of the military. As a kid I used to lie that while he wasn't at D-Day, he was one of the guys lucky enough to come off the boats after the fighting had stopped, then helped the Allies beat the Nazis the following year.
When he explained what it was he was holding, I was immediately fascinated in the way that someone who shares my affection for history would be. The first thing I wanted to know was, how long was it? From the width, it looked like it was at least 10, maybe even 20 feet long! And what the heck did Gram put on this thing? What was underneath all those layers that no one had read in almost a full lifetime?
I never really asked him about it, so I never got an answer. I also didn't take it with me, because it would've been disrespectful to do so. I may have been a little kid when my grandmother was still alive, but even then, I knew what they meant to one another.
To take it would've been to take one of his last great memories of his wife, and I couldn't do that to him. It wouldn't have been fair.
What I consider the time of purest happiness in my entire life were the summer nights when even as a five-year-old, I'd walk the two blocks to their house from mine, and sit on the porch with a popsicle while they sipped lemonade, practicing the lost art of conversation.
When Gramps finally passed on January 1, 2002, my aunt called me and asked if there were any of his effects I'd like to keep. I told her I only wanted one thing.
I wanted the Scroll, and I wouldn't take no for an answer.
Five years passed until I finally had the chance to get it. When I went home for the first time in nearly 15 years, it was waiting for me, a little more worn on the top than it had been, but otherwise perfectly intact.
I carefully transported it back the 3,013 miles to my home in Oregon, and there it stayed, wrapped in a plastic bag and kept out of the sunlight to protect it. Only brought out once in a while to show it to friends or make sure it hadn't eroded further.
It wasn't until five years later, just a few months ago, that I was at the point where I decided to see what was on it, and I did so because I desperately needed an escape.
Anyone who's been through a divorce will tell you that it's probably the most brutal thing you can experience short of the death of a loved one. I'd already endured that when I was 18, not to mention a million other things I'd just as soon forget.
Not long after my son was born, the years of trying to put on the good front and being the strong-minded guy finally caught up with me, and I broke down. Badly, and I'm not proud of it. Within months, I was on my own after alienating everyone else who dared stand by me in the aftermath and was totally, completely lost.
Like most people in this situation, I was looking for something to cling to. Something I could put my fractured mind into and keep myself from degrading any further than I had. It was then that I remembered the bundle I'd kept in my own file cabinet, and how I'd always planned to find out what was on it.
So I started to transcribe the Scroll, carefully uncoiling it a few inches at a time, and finding out what my Grandmother had told my Grandfather, now nearly 70 years ago.
It took nine days, working on it as soon as I got home from work until I was too exhausted to keep at it. Sometimes I'd only get a few hundred words down, or 5,000. It was a few hours a night where I could just sit down and not think about everything I was dealing with.
I could remember the good times I'd spent with my grandparents back when things truly were much simpler and much happier, and before I knew it, I'd reached the end.