Many years ago, the open-faced pewter dish clock still hung on the wall of my grandfather's house, above a line of low cabinets upon which stood Chinese porcelain forms. Just in front of it, their dining table in pink line and dot melamine with matching plastic and steel chairs. It was mid-morning, a time suitable for breakfast. Mostly because the butter had to thaw and the bread warm up from being in the fridge. The bread was strong white and came in a waxed paper sack. Back then, it was something delivered to every house, just like the milk man, we had a bread man. So the bread sack stood open on the pink table and the butter on a blue plastic dish under its frosted clear cover. My grandparents brought out the radio -a Japanese battery transistor radio in dull green and tuned in the news. It was only turned on for 5 minutes to conserve the batteries. Then we sat about the table listening to the ticking of the pewter 35-years-service commemorative clock.
I suppose that one of Grandma's ways to my grandpa's heart was her home-made marmalade. From orange peel, orange juice, and lemon juice, stirred slowly over the stove. There was barely any left in the repurposed jar, but with conjuring sweeps of the knife, a thin glistening layer of golden jam was applied to the bleached white square of bread. Then the butter, evenly scraped on its flank and daubed on as well. After which, I was offered my turn. I declined, so Grandpa folded the slice of bread in half and bit into it. Grandma followed a step behind. I just sat there feeling as if time itself were a burden one bears -the effect of closeness to the very old.
There isn't a clock on the wall at Grandpa's house anymore, and the porcelain pomfret with its magic eye is the only decoration on the cabinets by the dining table. Just to the left of his wood-framed photograph, placed there after his lost battle with prostate cancer. Grandma no longer makes marmalade, and the bread comes from the gas station nearby, enriched with bran and honey and modern preservatives, in a plastic sack pinched close by its best-by tag. It's always soft and warm and the satellite TV permanently reruns the soaps. I understand now that time is what you fill it with, before the mouth that remembers so many turns of phrase is shut forever, before the trained, targeted spin men flood the channels and we don't really see or hear.
Out in the garage, the curvy Volkswagen Beetle they owned stands on bricks. I'd like a car like this someday, I effused to Grandma when I was younger. It'll go to your uncle she corrected me. Try to drive my Volks out the gate, Grandpa chipped one day, as I struggled to kick in the stiff clutch. Taking it the wrong way, it wasn't a lesson or for fun and laughs, but the kindness of a frugal man I discouragingly couldn't receive. I turn away and don't see or hear. The Windows of the Volks dusty and loose, an ungainly shell of the past. Lives are burdens time bears.
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