The little story of how my grandfather helped buoy my spirits and virtually bring me back to life—a year after his death.
Recently on the living room sofa of my apartment, I sprawled myself out in the increasingly familiar pose that signals the official start of my Sunday afternoon paralysis. Each week it sets in like clockwork, as soon as I return from driving my son and daughter to their fatherʼs house. I believe the cause of this recurring inertia is one part depression, one part relief and two parts exhaustion. It feels like some kind of custody handoff jet lag: No way around but through it. And because I had discovered, after extensive research, that watching TV for ten hours at a stretch would not cure but rather prolong this energy-zapped state, I left the remote on the coffee table. Instead, I switched on my laptop and did something I had never done before: I logged on to Facebook. In a matter of moments, a message on the screen would bring me to my knees. Before I tell the story, a little background. (If you’re in a hurry, click here to skip the details.)
THE SELECTIVE LUDDITE
Yes dear reader, I am one of “those people,” a social media holdout. As I write this, I can almost see the collective eye roll from the ultra-networked masses, and much to my annoyance it appears before my mindʼs eye as yet another strange emoji I refuse to use. I am also an emoji virgin. Ditto for Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest. All that. On purpose.
Aside from my personal history of being a perennial late bloomer, I cannot account fully for my resistance, my prolonged hesitation to jump on the social media bandwagon. But I do know that it has something to do with watching more than one lovesick friend become engrossed to the point of anguish over pokes, tags, walls, and check-ins—all concepts of which I am blissfully, intentionally personally ignorant. Also, I am making a conscious effort to live my life in the present moment—not on the surface of my iPhone.
I will admit that, in one way, being a non-joiner despite the ubiquity of social media has made me feel special, exotic even. That feeling may well be unjustifiable and even entirely imagined; nevertheless, it does help me feel sublimely insulated within a layer of nuance. It preserves in my life a trace of mystery, something that seems to be virtually—literally: virtually—evaporating from the human experience.
The feeling special part shows up for me both in big ways and in small ways. For one thing, it makes me the only member of my book club who requires special treatment, meaning another member has to be appointed to call or email me directly to tell me about the next book, the next meeting. Not sure why, but I take great pleasure in that little gesture. In the bigger picture? Well, it means I canʼt always see the big picture, at least not every single blasted detail of it. Thank heaven! Because if Paul Coelho and The Alchemist got it right, if the universe could indeed be conspiring to make my dreams come true, you can sure as heck bet that Iʼll be wanting to feel the full-fledged purity of that miracle!
If we track every thought as a tweet, GPS every step in real time and broadcast all evidence on Instagram, whereʼs the fun in that? No. I donʼt want to be able to connect all the dots as I go. I want to work hard, use my head, follow my heart, and then, when my moment comes, simply stand in awe and gratitude of the magical confluence of events that led me to my destiny.
Besides which, I had long since excused myself from any peer pressure to drink the proverbial Kool-Aid of social media. I felt more than justified in that decision, having been purposefully preoccupied for the better part of six years by two pregnancies, a combined 18 months of breastfeeding and non-stop caring for the resulting offspring—with whom I would much rather spend quality time than waste my dwindling free time plastering photos of them on Instagram.
All that said, I did sign up for a Facebook account a few years back—only because it was a requirement for streaming music through Spotify—but I never bothered with it again. Until that sad sofa afternoon.
ONE GIVEN SUNDAY
“You have 26 friend requests.” I scrolled down through the names, recognizing most but not stopping on any. But then I got near the bottom of the list and saw one that pulled me, heart first, right out of my stupor, off of the sofa, and down onto my knees.
It was a friend request from Pops—Larry Roubion, my grandfather, who had died one year earlier. Because he was my last living grandparent, I can now say out loud that he was always my favorite. (I liked to tease him saying I knew I was his favorite grandchild. Although he never confirmed this, let me say for the record that he never denied it either. Half-hearted apologies to my sister and cousins.)
Pops was a New Orleans original; greatest man I ever loved. His stooped stature belied his giant of a heart. He was funny, kind, gentle. And quiet. Pops was something of a mumbler, so you had to listen closely, ideally across the span of your entire life, to really get him. I had that luxury, and I continue to live in gratitude for it.
Although I helped write his obituary, Pops really cannot be summed up, not justly. Yes, he was a respected small business owner, a man who loved God and the New Orleans Saints (and not just on Sundays), a stand-up guy who could mix you up a mean gin buck or a whole pitcher of the best old fashioneds on the block. Or I could talk about the unmistakable twinkle in his eye, his quick wit, how patient and loving he was as a grandfather, how much he delighted in cooking breakfast for all of us. I could try to describe how completely cherished he could make me feel simply by brushing the flats of his knuckles softly across my cheek saying “How ya doin, my dahlin?ʼ” the way he did each and every time I showed up at his door. I could tell you about TFS, the wake-up song he made up and sang loudly over his homeʼs 1960s intercom to annoy my mother and her siblings out of their beds when they were young. “TFS, TFS. Time for school. Time for school. Time for the golden, golden rule,” a little ditty my mom passed down to me, one that I now sing to my kids in the morning. Itʼs corny for sure, but surprisingly effective, because in order to roll your eyes, you first have to open them.
But if Iʼm honest, describing the important things I learned from and loved about this man over my four decades simply surpasses my abilities as a writer, not to mention the page space allotted for this essay. Besides, my most cherished memories are too dear to disclose, and most of the funny Pops catchphrases are inside jokes that only members of my family can really appreciate. But there is one relatively recent incident that comes to mind, a little story that is both telling and tellable.
DANCE AND PRETEND NO ONE IS WATCHING
After taking him to brunch one Sunday a few years before he died, I accompanied Pops, a Navy veteran, to the World War II Museum. For an hour or so we toured the various exhibits: Pops sitting in a wheelchair borrowed from the museum, me leaning in, listening hard to hear him recall details about his time in the Pacific. As the elevator doors opened up, back on the ground floor, we could hear a swing band playing, and I saw Popsʼ eyes light up. We watched the dancers, some of them clad in vintage 1940s attire, and we smiled at each other. The spirit of the era being recreated before us was palpable, and I think we were both momentarily mesmerized, silently delighted at being able to experience such a thing together.
I love to dance—my dad taught me to jitterbug before I could tie my shoes—and I guess Pops could see that I was itching to get out on the dance floor. Because, after I excused myself to go to the ladies room, he managed to flag down one of the dancers, a thin, clean cut young man, and asked him to dance with his granddaughter, since he could not. I half scolded Pops when I realized what he had done, but I was actually happy to walk out onto the dance floor with my kindhearted partner. Only one problem: it turns out this guy was a really, really bad dancer. Bordering on spastic. I guess you could say he had no rhythm, but it was almost as if he was hearing a different song altogether. Yet he was a strong, enthusiastic lead, which made it worse, as he did not respond to any of my many attempts to get us back on beat. The memory of enduring those three excruciating minutes remains for me intensely cringe-inducing but also sweet and a little bit funny. And it is a dance I would gladly, wholeheartedly dance again, a thousand times, if it meant I could spend one more afternoon, even one more minute, with Pops.
I still see that “dancer” from time to time. We go to the same gym, and sometimes, when I catch a glimpse of his violently arhythmic stride atop the elliptical machine, I smile and think of my precious Pops, whose heart was always in the right place.
JUST BEFORE THE HEREAFTER
A little over five years after that day at the museum, I was at Popsʼ bedside in the hospital, for the second time in one month, as a number of chronic health problems were taking their collective toll. He was unconscious, his body shutting down, his face showing a gray pallor that made my bones feel sorry for themselves.
The doctors took out his feeding tube, saying it was his time, that it was inevitable. But I did not want to let him go. “Theyʼre not even giving him a chance!” I said through tears to my Uncle Bobby in the hallway. “He might rally,” I argued.
“Kara, Heʼs 87,” Bobby said matter-of-factly, but with a kindness I know he learned from his father. “And heʼs been rallying for three years.” I knew he was right. So I walked back into the room, held Popsʼ hand, kissed his cheek and whispered in his ear for the last time. Then I took my angst and my grief outside to the hospital courtyard and phoned my sister. Pops died the next day.
One year later, still sitting motionless with my computer on my lap, I stared hard at the screen. Seeing Popsʼ unanswered friend request right there in black and white made my Sunday blues suddenly seem immaterial. And before my mind was able to register the regret of having missed a chance to connect with my grandfather in a new way during his last year on earth—I did not think. I made a move. With my heartbeat pulsing strong through my fingertip, I simply hit the “accept” button. And with that click, I immediately felt a surge of warmth course through my body. It was relief, a release, peace. It was at once thrilling and calming. It felt like a communion of our souls, and crazy as it may sound: I could almost feel Pops reaching out to me from the Hereafter. And in finally finding a good enough reason to open myself up to social media, I was reaching back out to him. And it felt right. It meant something.
To this day, Pops remains my one and only Facebook friend. Though I know this will have to change soon—as I begin to pursue some entrepreneurial goals that will require social media presence—for the moment, that is exactly the way I want it to be.