January 26, 2018

Childhood Regrets

Sometimes, memories from my childhood pop into my mind. Like still images or grainy video. Haunting. Gnawing.

I never knew my maternal grandfather. He died before I was born. The man I called 'Grandpa' was actually my second step-grandfather. We called the first step-grandfather 'Grandpa Aaron' and I remember very little about him. He made me a wooden dollhouse and bird house, and, apparently, he was mean to my Grandma so they got divorced.

I was seven years old when Grandma married again. This kind, never-married-before, man became my Grandpa. He was a farmer—corn and soy beans—and he took us for tractor rides and let us play in the barn.

One day, my cousins and I piled into his old car—it had three seats in the front—to run an errand at a neighbor's place. I thought it would be a brief trip—stop, do what he had to do, go home—and I brought along a book to read in the car. In those days, I lived and breathed books—being a grown-up really cuts into my reading time. Instead, the neighbor kids invited us to play badminton while Grandpa did whatever he had to do. I didn't want to play badminton. Everybody else got out of the car and played in the yard. I stayed in the car and read my book.

When my Grandpa got back to the car, he chastised me for not playing with the other kids, and he said—I don't remember the exact words—that he was disappointed in me. His words crushed me. I hadn't seen staying in the car to read as a selfish choice. I became overwhelmed with guilt; a remorse that would continue to hang over me for decades like a dark storm cloud.

My Grandpa died a few years ago. I remember the good times—McDonald Happy Meal picnics in the park, shopping trips, ice cream cones, card games, eating another scoop of mashed potatoes because he kept passing me the bowl—and I remember the day I didn't play badminton.

This experience had a profound impact on me and contributed to the person I am today. When I see my son facing similar scenarios, I tell him my stories so he can make choices he may not regret in the future.

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