I can remember as clearly as my own name, the sound of the rain pounding mercilessly away at the roof of my grandfather’s house and the howl of the wind outside the raindrop-painted windowpane. I slouched in the rocking chair in the living room, watching the rain hammer away at the wood boards on the back porch and rocking absentmindedly. The droning hum of the heater vent vibrated through the musty air of the house. It was all white noise, buzzing away at the back of my head. In truth, my mind was not in that gloomy old house. I was off in my own world, racing through the imprints of time.
I was back to that summer, with my friends on the beach, taking in the sun and talking about nothing in particular. We laughed at jokes that made no sense and splashed through the surf, making an obvious effort to have as much fun as we could before school stole those days away from us. There was no telling how much I would give to be back at the beach, in the warm sun with my friends, rather than watching the rain come down, miles away from the seashore. My parents were at a Class of ’85 reunion, probably laughing with some of their old friends and catching up on years lost. Naturally, I was outvoted, and here I was sent to suffer in solitude in the musty air of my grandfather’s lonely old house.
I leaned back in the chair, closing my eyes. The silence began as the heater faded off, surrounding me, cutting through the pounding of the rain and the relentless howl of the wind. I listened for a moment before noticing the oddity of the silence. Where was my grandfather? For at least an hour, I had not heard a thing from him, which was unusual, for he was normally bustling around the house, occasionally with his cane, giving orders or letting Sparky, his highly energetic border collie, out into the yard. Now I could hear not a sound from his room or the kitchen. Befuddled, I rose to my feet, out of the chair, and curiously made my way down the hall to his room. My ever-prominent grandfather’s sudden silence held a feeling of gripping cold dread that wrapped around my heart like an iron fist. The pictures that hung from the walls in the long hall seemed to stare at me from either side, watching me, making the feeling that gripped me no easier to bear. Cautious, I touched the door to his room with my fingertips, pushing the light, wood door open. “Grandfather?” I called uncertainly. “Are you in here?” Relief washed over me when he answered in a clear, full voice.
“Jane? Come in,” he replied.
I sighed and entered, pushing the door all the way back. He sat on the tall, highbacked armchair that stood erect by the window, gazing out into the rain-soaked street. I rested a worried hand on the red fabric of the chair, furrowing my eyebrows in discombobulated confusion.
“What is it?” I asked tentatively. Never was my grandfather this quiet, this withdrawn, so deep in thought. It startled me beyond all physical or mental belief and worried me to some extent. I had never really bonded with my grandfather, nor were we close at all, but the prospect of any idea bothering him this much was foreign to me.
“Jane, could you fetch the photo album from my dresser?” he asked, gesturing at the old mahogany chest of drawers in one corner of the room. Bewildered, I scampered over to the dresser and picked up the leather-covered old photo album, cradling it in my hands so as not to ruin the antique delicateness. My grandfather turned to look at me and saw the way I looked at the old book. “Well, come on then. It won’t crumble beneath your fingers, if that’s what you’re thinking,” he said, the strength returning to his voice, seemingly breaking the brittle layer of ice that seemed to cover the room. Awoken from my daze, I walked more briskly to the chair and placed the album on his lap, stepping back after I did so. His eyebrows furrowed in thought as his hand ran over the leather cover, dull in some places but shining on others from the pale light gleaming through the window. He was silent once more, and I could feel the ice beginning to spread again, the delicate webbed frost spreading like a shadow. My grandfather sighed deeply, and a look of profound sadness came upon his face. “Your grandmother…” he began, fading off. “Your grandmother gave me this photo album, the first Christmas we ever spent together,” he said, talking more to himself than he was to me. “She told me to store all the memories I could in it, so on days like this one I could look back and remember.” He sighed, looking out the window through the rain-spattered glass. “So many memories…” he mumbled, flipping open to the first page.
The picture was in black and white, depicting a man and a woman in a suit and dress, each wearing a brilliant smile. “Was that…” I began, but he cut me off.
“Our wedding, a day I will forever remember, every color, sound, smell, everything,” he mumbled. I sat on the bed, not taking my eyes off his face. The former silence took over as he bowed his head over the photo, broken only by the patter of the rain and the rhythmic ticking of the clock on the wall. We seemed to sit in deep quiet for eternity, neither speaking nor moving, as if the entire room had been encased in amber, and trapped. Finally, my grandfather looked up at me, a question in his eyes, “Jane, do you remember your grandmother?” he asked, his voice brittle, like kindling to be tossed into a fire.
I thought back into my younger years, as far back as I could. Grandma Rose died when I was about four or five, but try as I might, never could I remember more than a smile. My eyes met the tired eyes of my grandfather. “No, not much anyway,” I replied, fiddling with the sheets on the bed.
“I suppose I shouldn’t expect you to remember back that far,” he said thoughtfully. “Rose was kind, gentle, the best mother in the world to your father and aunt. You have her eyes.” I was startled. My own hazel eyes had never seemed to be anything special, or meant anything to me, but now they seemed different somehow. “Yes, and her smile,” he added, a sad smile of his own coming upon his face. He flipped the page, revealing a picture of a man, a woman, and two children, a boy and a girl.
“You, Grandma, Dad, and Aunt Lisa,” I guessed, seeing the resemblance in the faces of each child and the parent.
“Yes,” he replied, sighing heavily.
I was still in a bit of a cloud at this moment in time, having no inclination of why my grandfather was so despondent or downcast. Concerned, I stepped forward and placed a tentative hand on the back of the red velvet chair. “Grandfather, is everything all right?” I murmured. The action surprised me, as if someone else was moving my hand and causing my voice to emit from my voice box. As I said before, I never bonded with my grandfather, and I never understood him. Of course, I never really made an extraordinary effort to get to know him, unfortunately, so you can imagine my surprise at my own actions.
He looked up at me, eyes that seemed to hold all the knowledge in the world staring straight into mine. “Today, exactly eight years ago, your grandmother…” he faded off again. “… your grandmother passed away,” he said, obviously with much difficulty.
I recoiled subtly, all of the puzzle pieces falling instantaneously into place, missing chunks falling into sequence with one simultaneous click. He must have sensed my muscles tensing up, because he smiled slightly and looked up at me. I smiled back, trying to make it as sincere as possible, but as shaken as I was, such a thing was difficult to accomplish. My grandfather turned back to the window and the pale light seemed to make his weathered face look years older. I gazed out at the rain as well, as lost in thought as he was. After what seemed like another eon, my grandfather said something I shall never forget, something that will remain forever in my memory. “The thing about Rose was, she never saw the deep darkness of a storm cloud, or the cold freezing rain. She always used to tell your father and Lisa when they would cry or think they could no longer carry on, ‘No matter how hard the rain may fall or how the storm may roar, there will always be sunshine, even on a cloudy day. You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.’”
He gazed down at the picture on his lap, the man, woman, and children. “You know, she sang that song to them, I don’t know how many times, but they never seemed to tire of it. I’ve always tried to find the sunshine, among all those clouds. Over the years it’s become harder, but I’ve always seemed to find it.” He turned and looked at me solemnly, sorrow and emotion filling his eyes. “That’s what we all have to do, Jane, find our sunshine, and we can get through life, no matter the speed of the winds, or the strength of the waves.” I closed my eyes to contain my own emotions. It seemed as if I had suddenly been transformed into thin glass, and the slightest nudge would cause me to shatter into a million pieces. My thoughts seemed to move like storm winds in a cyclone around my brain, that is to say, exceedingly fast. When I opened my eyes again, his gaze had returned to the photo album, and his hand held the page in a death grip. It was then I decided to leave him in peace with his thoughts, feelings, and memories. Solicitous not to disturb him, I crept silently out of the room on tiptoe and closed the door behind me.
Little did I know that this would be the last time I saw my grandfather and heard his voice. I spent the rest of that day on the back porch, Sparky curled asleep at my feet, and the cool air swirling around my face. My parents returned from the reunion and collected me, interrogating me on how my time had been while they were gone. I simply replied that it had been boring and I did nothing, keeping my grandfather’s conversation to myself, knowing that those moments would forever be mine alone. Two days later, I found out that my grandfather had passed away peacefully in his sleep, and for some obscure reason, it came not as a surprise to me, but more as if I knew it was coming. Part of me said that I never truly knew him in depth, but another segment of my heart told me that my grandfather had showed me more about himself in fifteen minutes of meaningful conversation than he had in almost all of my lifetime.
That day we went back to my grandfather’s house, and almost consequentially, gray clouds swirled overhead, threatening to cry out their tears of sorrow. I said almost nothing as we entered the house, my navy-blue jacket wrapped tight around my shoulders to evade the cold. My parents were in the kitchen, speaking to one of the neighbors, who had baked cookies. What for, I do not know. As far as I was concerned, celebration was the last thing on my mind. With my parents occupied, I managed to slip away, back down through the hall and to the back bedroom. As I pushed open the door, the first thing that I lay eyes upon was the photo album, brown leather wrapped around the memories my grandfather had held close at heart.
My throat seemed to close up, all of the emotion I had held in on the car ride here and every moment since I found out, rose to the surface in a hot, uncontrollable rush. Standing in the doorway, I hugged myself, rocking back and forth from my heels to my toes, breathing deeply in and out. When it felt as if the feelings had returned to their former blasé demeanor, I stepped forward and made my way stiffly over the faded carpet to the mahogany set of drawers and gathered the album into my hands, which seemed to shake at any given moment. Carefully, I wrapped the old book snugly in my jacket and tucked it safely under my arm.
I left the album by the front door and snuck past the adults in the kitchen, out the back door and into the yard. Sparky lay in his house, possibly sleeping, or mourning the passing of his lifetime companion. I stepped off of the patio and onto the grass, feeling the pure lushness of the green sprigs under my feet. The wind picked up in a flourish and I could feel a few solitary, daring drops of rain on my shoulders. “Find the sunshine,” my grandfather had said. There was sunshine to be found, even on a cloudy day. But how could there be sunshine? Now? With all that had happened, the good seemed impossible to find. So I closed my eyes and began to cry, giving up trying to find the sunshine, because it seemed there was none to be found, not in this storm. The rain fell harder, and my tears, hot salty bitter tears, fell with it. Sobs shook my body, and raindrops, cold, freezing raindrops, fell onto my bare arms, and I began to shiver.
I looked up into the rain and suddenly, as if by some supernatural force, the clouds broke on the horizon and brilliant rays of sunshine cut through the mist like a knife. My eyes grew wide and my tears slowed, as if sunshine had stopped them too. When my gaze landed upon the brilliant rays, I thought of what my grandfather had told me of my grandmother, and I realized that I hadn’t found my sunshine, it had found me. So, comforted, I began to hum.
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy, when skies are gray. You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.”