Grandfather’s Office

Every morning up until the month before he passed away, my grandfather went to the office with his two sons. For thirty years or so his official title was company president, his presence necessary at all company meetings and his opinion of utmost importance when it came to decision making, but sometime around his ninetieth birthday he decided to take a step back and let his sons take the reigns. He was still the man who signed the checks, an activity he delighted in, but he shortened his working day to four hours, eight to noon, when he would leave for lunch. As the years wore on, his “duties” became a lightweight medley of newspaper reading and reorganizing the whirligigs on his desk and matching lottery numbers. From time to time he would emerge from his office to see what his sons were up to, and they would look up from whatever they were working on to nod kindly at him.

Often, he would tap on his middle son’s window and ask how the stock market was doing.
“It’s doing fine, Father,” his middle son would say, “Just fine.” And my grandfather would nod and shuffle along, a stooped figure gliding past the glass.

It is good fortune, the Chinese say, to be emotionally close to one’s family and even greater fortune to be physically close. Ask any elderly Chinese what it is they want most and most likely, they will say, “To have my children all around me.” My grandfather was blessed by living in the same building as two of his sons and their families, and doubly so in that he worked with them as well, without incident. My grandfather’s sons were the light of his life, the company they had built together a great source of pride. That his sons respected him is an understatement – they showered him with love and adoration, but of the quiet type. There was never any fawning, only a steady stream of support and acquiescence for whatever it is the father wanted to do.

It seems silly to point this out, but they let grandfather have the biggest room. That expansive back office with long windows overlooking the neighboring airport.

 Once, when I went with grandma to pick grandpa up for lunch, I found him dressed and ready to leave, standing before the window, watching the planes take off.
“He likes to do that,” my uncle told me.

When my grandfather passed away, there was no question as to whether the room would be cleaned out for either uncle – it wouldn’t. His sons would leave it just as it was. Visited the office last week, I found it unchanged since the last time I went to pick grandfather up for lunch. The room was slightly colder, but clean and orderly, with the desk chair pushed back and a pen left uncapped on the desk, as though grandfather had left briefly and would be returning any moment.

I examined his things, though I had seen them all before. It was like rereading a favorite book.
My grandfather was a shameless collector of cheap toys.

And clocks, of any type.

His shelves were  decorated with gifts from friends, including this stone rooster, complete with pebble grains. My grandfather was born in the year of the Rooster, as was my brother, my grandmother, and two aunts.

Behind a small table set from the seventies, a collection of Chinese paintings, also gifts from friends and business partners.

There were also many mirrors to be found, as even more than airplanes my grandfather loved to look at himself.

In the small wardrobe, a large safe, a crisp white shirt and a portrait of his father. Once, while helping my grandfather with his coat, he saw me looking at the photograph. He smiled and slowly lifted his hand up to point at the picture; he was nearing one hundred years old then. “My father,” he said, “my father.” Fittingly, in each of my uncle’s offices, there are portraits of their father.

And on the adjacent shelves, more recent photographs:

From a company/family outing with the office ladies and grandchildren.
With Grandma on the left (peeling shrimp for Grandpa), Betty and Grandpa at one of many restaurants, circa 2007.

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