I imagine driving from Seattle to Portland, Oregon, to my grandparents’ house.

I spent many a weekend there growing up, almost all holidays, and every Christmas morning. The house was full of the smell of baking — fresh bread, butterhorns, and ginger cookies my grandmother called “molasses crinkles.” I loved to browse my grandfather’s collection of classical music on LPs, and I particularly liked it when he played The Grand Canyon Suite. He had a fascination with Tutenkhamen, and I usually spent time examining the coffee table books and staring with a giddy sort of horror at the images of mummified remains. There was something really exciting about a tomb, about a person and all of their belongings being buried for so long, and the grave suddenly bursting open.

When I was in high school, my grandfather passed away, and far too early, from a sort of lieukemia. I don’t remember much about it, but I remember that those last few days were painful, as he lay in his hospital bed wrestling with something unseen. He was 62. My grandmother passed not long after. And I became a stranger in that house.

My cousin Jenny and her husband Gabe now live together with a big, playful puppy who is bounding around on his oversized paws, awkward and ebuillient with the joy of discovering new things. He has to taste and smell everything.

As I wake up this morning, I find myself thinking of that place — probably because I used to go there for dinner on Easter Sunday.

I imagine driving into that steep driveway, up to the house my grandfather built, just as he built so many others in Portland, Oregon.

I imagined opening the garage, which is was actually my grandfather’s workshop. The air is still rich with stories of sawdust, lumber, leather, and oil. This is where he built so many pieces of the world in which I grew up: the duplex where my Aunt Laverne lived; the fences; the cabinets; the bookshelves. When I was seven or eight he built me a puppet stage, and I learned to tell stories to an audience by crouching behind it and giving life to the hand-made, crayon-colored characters I invented on my own… my particular variation on my grandfather’s love for creating.

And there he is. He is walking around, gazing with affection at the tools he used to use. I know he’s remembering all of the projects he built. He brushes sawdust off of the workbench and it clouds into the air. He touches lightly the teeth of the power saw.

He’s just as I remember him, short, with a crew cut, glasses, skin that is darker than anyone else’s in the family. He’s quiet as he always was, with a twitch in the corner of his mouth that tells me he’s enjoying some private joke, too shy to share it. He approaches me, raises a hand and fixes it firmly on my shoulder, and I see that he is still missing half of his thumb, which he lost in an accident before I was born.

He loves this workshop. He built so much here. The things he built were of a quality that you can’t find easily anymore. Generations have grown up in the houses he built. And I don’t know any other carpenters like him. He was built to last, and with a few small repairs, he’s been returned to us. The tomb has opened. It turns out that the grave was just another room in the workshop of his creator. My grandfather is back, twenty years after we lost him. He is back, stronger than before.

I imagine this, and imagine that I seem taller to him than he remembers. I am suddenly aware that he seems to be the younger man, with a glint in his eye, a burden lifted. Meanwhile, I feel my own advancing aches and pains, the beginnings of trouble in my knees and my back. He smiles and claps me on the shoulder as if to say, Just you wait.

“Where’s that old puppet stage I built for you?” he asks me.

It’s out in my parents’ backyard, I say. It’s in¬†storage. We had to dismantle it so it would fit easily into the shed.

“You don’t use it anymore?”

Well, we all got so busy, you see. I grew up. Life is short, and I ran out of the time and the patience to make puppets and put on shows for the neighbor kids. Then the neighbor kids moved away. One of them got married and had twins, and then her husband was killed in a motorcycle accident while she was off visiting family, and she came home to learn¬†he had died. I heard about this from my mother, but I haven’t talked with that poor girl in twenty years. I think about those twins sometimes.

“Let’s put the old stage back together,” he says. “We can give it life again. I built it. You gave voices to the characters. It’ll be easy. We can raise it again and it will be better than new.”

I do. I drive to my parents’ house in Northeast Portland. I bring the stage out of storage, so I can take it back to my grandfather’s workshop. He will oil the hinges with that old tin can and put it back together, with those strong hands tough as leather, so different than mine.

But before I head back to my grandfather, I go inside to my old bedroom. That old antique trunk still stands quiet in the corner, shrouded in a sense of mystery like the Ark of the Covenant. I open it, and smell musty, tattered paper. I pull out one flattened brown paper bag after another, each one decorated with bright eyes and dramatic expressions. Some have hair made out of yarn. Some have cotton-ball noses. I spent hours and hours, weekends and evenings, summer vacations, designing these puppets when I was a child, but they seemed to take on lives of their own in my imagination, saying and doing things that surprised me. There they are, as if waiting. In my hands, they’ll come alive, just as they once did. Without me, they’d just remain in this trunk until somebody disposed of the whole thing. But I made them. I know what to do with them. I put it all in the car, take it all¬†to my grandfather’s house.

“You know, I never saw you do a puppet show,” my grandfather says. “Except on that Christmas morning when I gave this to you.”

I remember that morning. So many wonderful things happened on those Christmas mornings at my grandfather’s house, unexpected gifts that were surprising and yet they reflected a careful design and forethought. Once, I found a bright red bicycle in the driveway. With my name on it. Once, my mother and her sister presented each other with presents, and peeled away the packaging to discover identical dresses. My grandmother pulled pans of fresh homemade cinammon rolls from the oven, and later she pulled out fresh rolls to tuck onto the plate alongside the turkey and potatoes for the feast. And there was pumpkin pie with Cool Whip in the evening.

And none of this had to happen, none of it had to be done. But it was done, it did happen, in celebration of a mystery. It was done right, with love and with grace.

I have my grandfather back. Jenny and Gabe are there too, with their puppy, and the rest of my family. The neighbor kids, who used to be the audience for these stories, are there too. I crouch down behind the old puppet stage, which my grandfather has given a fresh coat of paint. I can do something here, give something back, a small measure of thanks, fill this frame with simple stories, bringing life and meaning from paper and yarn, on a stage built of wood scraps from my grandfather’s workshop. We’re affirming that we know there is meaning in what sometimes seems madness. It’s an empty stage ready for new stories, and my grandfather is back, and I won’t lose him again like I did before. He’s alive. Raised up by the the one who made him and for whom death is such a small thing. He’s beaming with a life of his own, and there is a twitch in the corner of his mouth, like he’s laughing at some private joke, something he knows but won’t tell me.

I wake up. It’s Easter Sunday morning in the month of March 2008. It is raining, but there’s sun in the forecast. The garden is waking up, as if about to put on some kind of play for the gardener. There are buds on the trees.

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