In 1991, my father was visiting his dad daily. Stopping by to say hello, dropping off something he needed to help do work around the house or just driving by to make sure the house was secure.
Grandpa was getting bored it seemed. New Jersey had lost it’s appeal and all he would do now is watch cowboy & indian movies and sit in the backyard. You see my grandpa, Cleo Briggs grew up in a small Maine log cabin at the foot of Mt. Katahdin near Moosehead Lake. His dad, James worked at the Paper Mill as a lumber jack. The town was Millinocket. As you could imagine, they could hunt. Guns, knives, a hook and even their bare heads would be used to catch their meals. I heard stories of hiding in the forest brush and grabbing a passing deer. Imagine your son coming home tonight with such a tale of his day covered in deer blood and a big smile? He lost 2 fingers when his older sister, Mabel was chopping wood for a fire. He was only a baby. The surgery scars I recall, looked like sausages tied at the end. Yet he always had a smile, more than any man I ever meet. It was a smile of fake teeth and one blind eye, but I forever remember it’s unique features.
Both Cleo and my father, Wayne were marksman. They could fire a gun with perfect precision. I only got to witness it in the woods shooting cans or in grandpa’s backyard, where he would pick-off a squirrel that was digging up his grass. I’d also get to see it over the years down shore. Many large stuffed animals would come home after my dad shot out the entire star out of a piece of paper only 10 feet away. A sucker’s bet turned into a kid’s windfall. But it was one particular gun I remember most, the one my grandfather would get from a friend.
It was a sunny day and my dad made his daily visit after work. As he approached grandpa’s home in Clifton, the door was open. Grandpa would do that sometimes for grandma, Ann . so she didn’t have to look for her keys. She came home after getting her hair done or shopping usually moments around the time my father would visit. One this day, grandma was not home yet. So dad yelled into the house for his dad and waited for the regular reply, “Briggs!” He heard nothing. As he walked thru the kitchen of this small 1 bedroom apartment, it was dead. No sound to be heard. Then as he looked upon the floor in the TV room, there was Cleo lying with a pillow he had used to find some comfort. Upon a closer look, the full story quickly became apparent. Cleo, his father had inflicted a gunshot to his temple. The entire left side of his forehead was swollen from the bullet that become lodged in the skull. Yet with this, he survived that first attempt. So my dad in disbelief spoke to him to get answers. He mumbled, “It was over, no more.” Then he shot another round into his belly thru a small pillow so to muffle the sound. My father asked why once more. “I need to go, not me anymore.” Quickly Wayne called 911 and described the horror. Within 30 minutes, a helicopter landed in a small field near the home. During those minutes, much was revealed including that there was a note on the table. He claimed, thou,gh we never confirmed this, that his doctor said he had cancer. He also said his goodbyes to his wife, his son and my brother and me.
I meet my dad at the trauma hospital in Newark, NJ to help. It was dad that needed help from me. As soon as I arrived he asked,”Do we let him die?” The doctor wanted to do surgery to remove the bullets, but needed consent from Wayne. He could not say yes. Cleo told him not to save him. So he asked me to decide. The doctor said the attempt would most likely kill him but it was his job to convince me to allow the procedure to be done. I said, “If it will most likely give him peace quicker, do it!” I saw Cleo lying there moments later to what would become my final goodbye. What I remember thinking is this would be the last time the 3 Briggs generations would be together alive.
My father immediately noticed that my decision was quick and firm. He hugged me and said, “Thanks, Briggs.” Grandfather died of a heart attack during surgery an hour later, but he really died when we decided to carry out his wish. Grandma would never forgive him. Forgive him for wanting to leave her. We tried to lighten the burden, but she could not.
My father would come to me with other emotional decisions that needed to be tilted, but none as big as that. I will never shy away from the fire and remind him all the time.
Next month we retire together. You can only imagine the bond we share and I will not attempt to describe it. Where I fall short, he fills in and vice versa.
We laugh all time. But know under that lies memories that we both never will speak about again. This serves as the final resting place of that day.