My grandfather died when I was 13 years old, but I can still remember everything he told me, and even his smell. He was a tall man with big worker’s hands. His hair had already begun to show some silver gray, even though he was only 62.
When I was 6, I moved in with my grandparents, because my mother got sick and could not take care of me anymore. It was supposed to be just a temporary arrangement, but my mother stayed sick for very long and I lived in my grandparents’ house for more than 10 years.
When I moved in, my grandfather was 55 years old, and he worked part time at the SKF ball bearings factory in our town. As a young man, he had been a baker, with his own big, famous bakery. Now he was baking at home. I remember waking up at 5:30 in the mornings, and he was already in the kitchen making bread.
When I woke, I always heard the slow thumping of my grandfather’s hands kneading the dough, hitting the kitchen table. I got up, and I yelled at him, because he had let me sleep in. He always promised to wake me up at 4 a.m., when he got up, but he never did. Most of the times, it didn’t matter. I got up just in time to start creating nice-looking pieces of bread, and put them in the oven.
There’s nothing better than fresh-baked bread at 7 in the morning, still warm. We would sit at our 10-person kitchen table, my grandfather and I, eating breakfast, with the butter melting on the bread, just waiting for my grandmother to wake up. We didn’t always talk to each other; there was no need for that.
My grandfather was the one who taught me to count. We played banker and customer, and I remember it was driving my grandmother crazy, because we had coins all over the living room. Sometimes I came to my grandfather’s bank to give him money, and he counted for me, and sometimes he came to mine. Of course, I was 5 or 6, and I always counted wrong. He laughed and told me, “No, I gave you thirteen, not five.”
The game got more serious when I got older, at least to me. He said, “If you can count this money, you can use it to buy ice cream.” I just had to learn how to count.
As I grew older, we worked together in the garden. My grandfather showed me how to pick apples, black currants and raspberries. He took me fishing in the lake; he taught me how to row a boat. I helped him carry logs for the fire; I even went with him out in the forest to cut down trees.
During the time we were working together, we started making up songs. They were stupid songs, but they were always right for the moment. When we got home, my grandfather also tried to teach me the songs on the violin, but it took me several years to learn how to play. He never gave up, though. He was always there to help me and guide me.
One day, he had a cold. I went to school as usual, and I walked home together with a boy in my class, because we lived in the same neighborhood. When I saw the driveway to my house, there were five or six cars, and I remember thinking, “Oh, we are having guests, how fun!”
When I walked up the driveway, I tried to figure out who was there by looking at the cars. Some of them I knew immediately, but there were a few strange cars too. Deep down inside, I knew something was wrong.
I got inside, and there were people everywhere – on the couches in the living room and at the table in the kitchen. I started looking for my grandmother. Finally, I found her – crying – in the bedroom, my aunt trying to comfort her. I walked in, and she looked at me and started crying even more. Then somebody told me. “He’s dead,” they said.
“Who?” I wondered. But I already knew.