I speak to my grandma on the phone pretty often. But not so much my grandpa. If I call and he answers he passes me off to her after a few exchanges between us. I don’t know if he doesn’t like talking on the phone or if he can’t hear well enough or if I’m too disappointing a grandson. He’s always friendly though so it’s probably not the latter.

But when I look in the mirror I see a man who very much resembles him and that makes me happy to think about.

Stoic is not a bad way to describe him in appearance. He has a default facial expression that maybe appears angry like I do. Like me, he may know this and use it to keep people away. Stress increases the intensity of my appearance. And concentration. These are generally good reasons to keep people away.

He’s earned the look though. He and my grandma were born in western Pennsylvania coal country and married early, presumably to start a life that didn’t rely on digging rocks out of the ground. His job involved being on the phone in the role he worked himself to in the transportation industry. In Chicago I’ve heard he upset some teamsters by pointing out to someone who would care that the mafia was involved in the operation of trucking in the city.

I think his life has been as principled and honestly earned as any.

He’s going blind now. He has a severe condition called macular degeneration that affects his vision. From the center, progressing out to the periphery. But there’s a treatment for it now that’s preserving his vision. One that involves getting a shot in the eye once a month. He loves to read and at this point he’s relegated to the large print editions but his taste seems to coincide with the types of books that are released that way. He goes to the thrift store and picks them up. The same way his grandson buys most of his books.

He has a right to look stoic and weathered an surly in a way that I do not. But when he smiles, it’s a beautiful, genuine smile of happiness. And its rare so it’s that much more valuable.

My smile looks like his.

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