My grandfather is one of those characters people like to tell stories about. Still. I never met him. Colon cancer took him before I was born. There’s a framed article hanging on my office wall entitled, Bert Mattson, We’re Rooting for You. It’s an odd experience, learning about your grandfather through something like that. It’s odd ambling the aisles of a trade show, old timers doubletaking the name tag and invariably lamenting I never knew the man before launching me into tales of a lost era, “Once at the Wild Game Dinner…” or “I started at the Landfall location when I was sixteen and…” These are things and places I know only from pictures.
One comes to take things for granted. It’s easy to lose contrast on the particular quality of a thing oft repeated. So a man, authentic as can be, becomes a caricature. And so, to me, has cancer become. My mother has battled mesothelioma for twelve years. Treatment of breast cancer left its mark, literally, on my sister’s heart. Recently my father had a tumor taken out, half his stomach with it.
And maybe this normalizing is a form of defense. My mother and sister were at times kept from cradling my son and daughter when they were very little, as the former were weakened or dizzy from treatment. Studies show this kind of contact influences neurodevelopment, IQ, and temperament in babies. What might it do for an ailing adult? Even for someone like me -prone to perseveration- it’s difficult to contemplate, and unspeakably cheesy to speak of. So the effect of cancer on the living becomes a matter of course. Life whittles down to the technical details. Triage. So…
These thoughts have been on hold for months if not years. I’ve had, what some call, an epiphany. Ribbons, whatever the cause, generally remind me of grubby checkout counters and dusty automobile bumpers. (Here I’m tempted to christen them Causeway Ribbons.) Level at me the label Cynic. I won’t struggle. But then, I saw my son’s last name on an article of athletic equipment and it caused a cascade. I found myself awake, in the wee hours, wondering just what ligature, what meaning had been severed between my son and the man, the myth, the legend, when colon cancer collected the latter. It was too much to consider in a sitting. But perhaps it’s time to find time to hand the boy the album and the clippings to evaluate for himself. Whatever it has become to me, a story is to each his his own.