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Bud Grossmann’s
Words of the Week
for the Week of
March 11, 2018
Published as a Gramma Letter
dated March 11, 1997.

© 1997, 2018 by Bud Grossmann.
All Rights Reserved.

View From Sand Island (1984)
  View From Sand Island (1984)
© 1984 by Bud Grossmann


Tuesday, March 11, 1997

Dear Gramma,

      Years ago, when I first met Carl and Mary Liz Carlmark, I took an instant liking to them. But whenever I visited their home back then, I got sweaty palms. They kept the windows wide open in their apartment, and that made me nervous. These retirees, you see, lived on the thirty-second floor of a condominium building in downtown Honolulu, and the sliding-glass windows had no screens. Carl and Mary Liz weren’t troubled by bugs on the thirty-second floor; mosquitoes get nosebleeds when they try to fly that high.

      I am a clumsy person. Even though the Carlmarks’ windows began at about the level of my chest, I always worried I might trip on a wrinkle in the carpet, tumble out a window, and become a part of the panoramic view. My son David was a toddler when Fran and I first met these folks, and every time that he climbed up on the furniture for a better look out the windows of that high-rise condo, my palms perspired and my heart pounded. I would clutch the back of Dave’s T-shirt or hug him to my chest.

      David especially loved the Carlmarks’ bed. The mattress had a good bounce to it. Carl had constructed the bedframe himself, and he built it high. He had designed two levels of dresser drawers into the frame, which meant that the top of the mattress was at about the height of the bedroom windows. The bed was set back a bit from the windows, but no more than a little leap away. “Dad!” Dave would protest, “I can’t jump if you don’t let go!”

      Carl enjoyed helping my son find safer things to do. “Come here, Dave,” he used to say, “and I’ll show you something.” Using scissors, the old man and the little boy would cut squares from sheets of typing paper, notch each square in three places, make a few folds, and create a fleet of “helicopters.” At the window, Carl and Dave set them aloft. With David standing on a chair, the two pals pitched their paper crafts out onto the wind, one copter at a time, watching each little rise and fall, each little zig and zag, each little twist and turn. When at last a helicopter disappeared from sight, they would launch another. Every spiraling descent was a new adventure; Carl and his co-pilot never bothered to file or follow a flight plan.

      Technically, of course, tossing paper out a window is littering, an activity I don’t ordinarily encourage my children to pursue. But getting into mischief with a grandpa is irresistible, a sweet and singular sinfulness. I could not complain.

      As the Carlmarks got on in years, they became more down-to-earth, and by that I mean, they moved into a fifth-floor unit in Arcadia, a retirement residence. Carl couldn’t take my kids on helicopter trips anymore, but he still found rules for them to break. He invited them to play ping-pong, darts, and pocket billiards in Arcadia’s recreation room. Carl paid no mind to the stern signs proclaiming the rec room Solely for the Use of Residents and Their Adult Guests. “No one is around,” he would say. “We will leave if someone else wants to play.” On many an evening, Carl and David raced remote control cars the length of the shuffleboard deck. Sometimes they would invite David’s little sister to join them in shooting pool, a noisy, fast-moving game with scarcely any rules and sometimes without any cue sticks.

      Carl, I regret to say, will no longer lead my kids astray. This past week, our dear friend, Carl Wilbert Carlmark, at the age of ninety, somewhat suddenly passed away. He’d grown frail, but his death was a shock to us.

      When Mary Liz phoned on Wednesday evening, she did not immediately announce the news. I answered the call and sat down on our piano bench to chat. A gentle breeze was lifting our living room drapes in front of our awning-style, floor-to-ceiling windows, here in our one-story house. “Bud, how are you?” was how Mary Liz greeted me.

      I chuckled in reply. “I had a root canal today,” I said.

      Mary Liz told me she had had one, too, some years ago, and she described the experience.

      When she paused, I asked, “And what is new with you and Carl?” I had visited their home only the day before, and enjoyed an ordinary and comfortable visit.

      “Well . . .,” Mary Liz slowly replied, “I think perhaps our troubles are over . . . or . . . maybe they have just begun. Carl died tonight at six o’clock.” And just then, the very moment she said those words, the wind here in Hawaii Kai rose to a roar, and lifted from a coffee table several sheets of origami paper left there by my children. The colorful scraps swirled about and then settled to the floor. Helicopters! Yes, a flurry of helicopters, seemingly sent from heaven.

      Gramma, I love you. I will write again next Tuesday.


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