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On Pause: An Ode to My Grandfather

notoriousShrewsbury, Massachusetts- It’s the summer of 2013 and I am watching Notorious, the 1946 Hitchcock classic featuring espionage, romance, and that long staircase scene. My grandfather sits next to me an we’ve been living together for the past two months. The movie just happened to be on Turner Classic Movies and I figured why not watch it with him. He fell asleep at a point, but it didn’t matter. For once, I had time in my day to spend with him. It was something I will always remember and wish I had done more of with him.

My grandfather died last night. Thankfully it was in his sleep. I got the call this morning from my mother. It was one of those calls one expects at any moment, but are never fully prepared for. I’ve always been weird about death. I keep things bottled up and try to be the one to keep a brave face in the midst of tragedy and loss to help those who cannot. It’s just how I’m programmed. I prefer, as most people do I am sure, to mourn in private where any emotions can be dealt with away from the public.

Regardless I went into work because I needed a distraction and not to stay home alone with my thoughts. My coworkers were sympathetic and let me take a walk to clear my head. I walked down 45th Street over to The Music Box Theatre. On breaks I go there to remind myself why I came to this city. I could not help but think of Moss Hart’s Act One and the influence his own grandfather’s death had on him. That Hart found it owed it to his grandfather not to give up on his dreams because his grandfather wouldn’t have wanted it that way. I’ve held that book close to me ever since moving to New York, but I hold it even closer now.

I never really knew what my grandfather felt about the career I went out to try and pursue. Unlike most familial figures, he never talked down to me about how I would make a living working in theatre or to give it up for something else. He never truly voiced his support for it either. I like to think that even though he may not have understood why I did what I did, he at least respected that I was out there pursuing what I wanted. I think if there’s one thing he did was do whatever he wanted without giving a damn what anyone else thought.

My grandfather was not a perfect man. He was stubborn, hypocritical, and often still referred to me as fat as I lost pound after pound. Granted, I was not the best grandson at times being self-involved and as stubborn as he was. However he had within him a steadfast resilience I always admired. He fought in World War II, he raised three kids, and worked for the telephone company for years. He had a debilitating stroke a decade ago that he managed to pull through with the help of his wife only to lose that wife two years later. Regardless, he stuck it out in his home for 8 more years because he never wanted to concede defeat against everything else. I always respected that about him.

The day before I moved to New York, I went to his house to get the bed I sleep in now. The same one I always slept in whenever I spent the night. My namesake slept in that bed. I considered it mine. He was sitting in his chair almost ready to go to bed. I went over to say goodbye and that I probably wouldn’t be back for a while. Usually when I visited I never talked to him for long, because I knew I’d be back at some point. But this time there was an urge within me that knew I might never see him again. So I said that I was leaving for New York and in a moment of lucidity he told me to have fun and stay out of trouble. I promised him I would try. I was at least thankful that I got a good final moment with him because most people don’t even get that.

I mourn through media. I have often found that I attach the people I’ve lost onto celebrities and characters. If I ever want to see my grandmother, I watch Bea Arthur in Golden Girls and I can almost never see Jane Curtain without seeing my Aunt Sharon. A movie that is near and dear to my heart is last year’s Nebraska. It struck such a personal chord with me because the scenario reminded me so much of the one in my family regarding my grandfather in the last couple of years. It’s a movie I plan to watch soon in honor of him. It’ll be my own tribute.

I know that when people die people rush to Facebook or Twitter to spread the news and some people manage to make it about themselves as opposed to the person they’re mourning. I don’t want to be one of those people, even though it may sound like I am. I only come here because it’s the only way I know how to cope with something. Just writing things out and working through it. You don’t have to listen to what I say or even care, that’s fine, I don’t expect you to. I just wanted to take some time and talk about my grandfather. After all he did for me to make me who I am, I at least owe him that. So here’s to you, Norman Franklin Collins. I will miss you dearly.

Norman Franklin Collins was born on June 29, 1925 and died on January 29, 2015. He is survived by his sons Peter and Stephen Collins, his grandchildren Devin Collins, Erin Collins, Julia Becker-Collins, Tucker Collins, and me, McKegg Collins. Services will be held on Monday February 3, 2015 from 5-8 pm at The Sumner House and Tuesday February 3, 2015 at 11 am.

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