On this coldest of winter days, I am remembering a phone call that interrupted our summer. I was nine years old and my grandfather had died. It was hard to know how to feel. He was so far away and we hardly knew him. My brother, sister, and I thought we should feel sad. But mostly we acted sad because we did not know what else to do. We had not lost anyone before. Now, in losing someone, we were learning what it was like to have him.

The phone call landed on a summer day,

our summer day of bragging about camp,

of dares and exaggerations.

It came from Thailand and

our grandfather had died.

The news fell on the adults heavily,

but for us it sat uneasily,

not knowing how to feel,

and spoiling our day.

We had not known this grandfather.

Now we did.

Before, Thailand was faraway

and fleeting:  ice cream and

cousins I would soon forget.

But, hidden on the steps,

listening to the adults whisper,

I felt the presence of others

of my tribe whispering, too,

beyond the walls of

our Midwestern house.

Loss and gain, both at once.

Who was this grandfather,

whose permanence

in my life had come at death?