There is a photograph of John Henry Turner on my sideboard. A photograph of my grandfather long before he became my grandfather. A cool, young man on a motorbike with a cigarette hanging from his lip. James Dean cool years before James Dean ever made it cool. This is not the John Henry I knew, of course. The older and fatter man I knew is waiting to happen.
Grandad died in the obvious sense many years ago but he is still alive in the people who knew him. He still lives in me. The smell of his pipe and the grate of morning stubble on his soft cheek. The feedback whistle of his deaf aid. The broadness of his dialect untainted by the television or radio that he could not hear. The tongue in his cheek mimicking the movements of his fingers as he poked seeds into little pots of soil. The way he so completely owned his armchair even when he wasn’t there. I can summon up a hundred little pieces of John Henry Turner and there must be a thousand more that have sunk quietly into me and helped to make me, me.
John Henry Turner still lives a little in a few dozen photographs and a few hundred feet of old 8mm film. He still lives on a motorbike on my sideboard.
My grandmother (the woman who married the cool young man on the motorbike) was very fond of the phrase “all my eye”. She could spot a tall tale from a hundred yards. It’s hard to slip a fib past somebody who has raised a family of boys. He did it! It was already broken! I didn’t touch it! All my eye.
I am in here somewhere. All the memories and tall tales that make up me sit somewhere behind my eyes. It may be an illusion, but it is an illusion that is impossible to break. I could read a hundred books on the workings of the eyes and the brain but the essential me would still sit somewhere inside looking out through these windows. So this is where I live. And without any superstition about a life beyond these windows, this is where I will live for as long as I live.
From the outside, that might be just the blink of an eye. From here, inside, I’m going to live forever. Or maybe that’s all my eye.
Still a part of me is at least a little curious about what happens after. I sometimes wonder what I am sowing in other people’s heads. What do the people behind these eyes think when they look out and see me? Food mostly. Food and tickles and comfort. But in a year or two they’ll start to grow real memories. A copy of me built out of more than just recognition. Singular stories and images that are strong enough to be turned into words and shared. I pretend not to have any superstitions about immortality, but, deep down, a part of me likes the idea of living on at least for a while in the impressions I make on other people. And perhaps in a photograph on a sideboard.