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Mon, Nov. 15th, 2004, 07:07 pm

My grandfather disappeared once, well more than once but I say once for the progression of the story, packed a small bag , hoped in his truck, and wasn't seen for several weeks. An instance such as this would have been of concern but he was known to vanish for weeks at a time. I was to young when this had happened but I remember, at three, my mothers stress taking it's toll.

I would find out, some years later, that he would take up residence in Superior, WI, live out of his truck and collect cans along the freeway for food. That is at least the story that I have been told, but I still wonder what it was like, and furthermore what drove him to it. I imagine a grey-haired man huddled over burning trash-cans, starving, but not desperate enough to go home to his wife and kids. What could go so wrong that hunger becomes a better option than the family life? It may have been mental-illness, perhaps a fear of the life ahead. Given the events of his later years I will side with the former rather than the latter.

My grandpa. Charles, would eventually find his way home. He would pull into the dirveway, open the door, kick off his boots, and mention nothing of where he had been nor would my grandmother ask, his fist had met her face enough for her to quit caring. They would sit in silence, watching the television, and pertend that nothing had ever happened. Their children, my mother and uncles, would do the same.

Several years went by before Charles left again, everyone thought it was out of his system, until one morning when my grandma (Helen) woke up once again to an empty bed. At first she shrugged it off just as she did all the other times, that was until she realized his shoes were still on the welcome mat, his truck in the driveway, and his shotgun gone. For the first time in their marriage a missing persons report was filed, and true worry engulfed my family.

My mother was short and quick to tears, in retrospect it is understandable, but as a seven year old you haven't a clue why you feel as if you are being punished for asking, "what is wrong." My father, after Charles had been "gone" for over a week sat us kids down, I have an older sister and youger borther, and explained what had been going on while asking us the entire time to remain patient for my mom was scared. "She doesn't mean to hurt you, to take anything out on you right now. She is frightened that she may never be with her Dad again," he rationalized to us, again we were young, but I would like to think we understood as nothing was brought up about Grandpa's disappearence, even when it began to appear on the nightly news.

Two weeks had gone by and still no sign, a body, a phone call, a father once again walking through that door to make like all was well, nothing. My father, hearing my Mother's weeps and prayers in the mid-morning hours, decided he would walk every acre of my grandparents land until he found some sort of sign, or found nothing at all. On the fifth day I told him that I wanted to help, that he was my family to and that I should help, he must've taken pity on the tears in my eyes or perhaps just wanted a second pair of them, but he decided to take me along...I wish he hadn't.

What I saw that day will haunt me forever. A body decomposing and a head no more than twelve feet away doing the same. Grasp this if you can, a seven year old stumbling upon the body of his grandpa, the man that always had a toy for him when he came to visit, the man who would throw him in the air and always catch him just before he crashed to the floor, the man who would let you in the toy closet even though Grandma said it was off limits, this same seven year old staring at maggots eating through that man's flesh.

Nothing was the same after that day, I was less innocent, my mother broken, and his name rarely mentioned unless one of us kids brought it up. We moved on, my grandmother re-married, my mother seems happy though more fragile, and I am the cynic many know today, Grandpa Chuck I hope has finally found his peace, be it rotting in the ground a dark a solitary life or heaven (if there should be one.)