by Erin Lewis
My grandfather was the first generation of hippies in my family, a tradition I’ve carried on and passed to my 4th generation hippie children named for flowers and a Beatles song.
When I was in high school, we watched Schindler’s List, and I found out, when someone else invited me to temple, that my family was non-practicing Jewish. Of course, at 16, seeking identity and my place in the world, I asked my grandpa why we didn’t go to a temple or synagogue- why we didn’t pray or celebrate all those Jewish holidays they talk about in comedy movies set in New York.
“Erin, everything is everything.”
Now that I’m a parent, I see the appeal of this simplistic and universal truth. I read my children a book about Carl Sagan, and his quote that we are all made of starstuff gave the kids such a wonderful sense of belonging in the universe; “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.” Sagan’s quote refers to how every element was created in the beginning of the universe. Our building blocks all came from this time before time as stars collapsed and were reborn. Grandpa’s “everything is everything” was in a way how he told me we were atheist, and so the fact that I relate it back to Sagan makes sense. Grandpa believed in universal truths rather that religion’s rules.
He told me, “When a stranger comes to your door and is hungry, you share what you have. That’s what we believe.”
My grandmother, who took her own life when my mom was just a teen, was nothing but a memory, point of contention, and a cautionary tale by the time I came on the scene. The stories I grew up with, though, were not about her broken heart that couldn’t carry the pain of the world, but instead about her generous and loving heart that also helped the stranger and gave to others.
My grandparents moved to old town Sacramento and bought a house after my grandfather left the army. No, that gentle hippie never went to war or killed anyone. I imagine I’d be telling a completely different story if he had. Somehow, he just missed the action. I once saw him punch a ram in the face, but that’s about as violent as he ever got on my watch. In his defense, the ram totally started it.
Grandpa had a used furniture shop. He would find tables and chairs on the side of the road or at flea markets to fix them up and sell. One year, a local family saved up to buy a dining table from my grandpa for Christmas. They used every last dime to buy this nice table, and in chatting with them, my grandmother knew that the table would be empty that year. So when she and my grandpa delivered the table, they also brought trays and casserole dishes full of food, and they filled the table with a feast for their customers.
Feed the hungry. Everything is everything.
When a girl in my mom’s 2nd grade class developed a nervous habit of twirling her hair until it came out in clumps, my grandmother took up a collection among the other parents and bought the wig that the girl’s parents couldn’t afford on their own.
Everything is everything. Help a stranger.
My great grandfather wasn’t a hippie, exactly, but he was a doctor who did house calls and worked for food or services when the family couldn’t pay for medical care. My grandfather remembers many nights eating various stews from his father’s patients who didn’t have the money, or a man fixing the roof as payment. Later in life, my great grandpa moved to Saint Croix and taught scuba diving lessons until he was 80. The hippie vibes run deep.
When I was a teen, I lived with my grandpa for a variety of reasons. The hormonal balance of an elderly man and teenage girl puberty worked out somehow… We were both cantankerous and playful. Everything is everything. He taught me to cook, and every night we cooked together, and while it cooked we danced around the living room. We burned a lot of dinners and sometimes I stepped on his feet.
We ate stir fry almost every night. Mix whatever vegetables were ripe from the garden in a pan with ginger and garlic and soy sauce. Add just enough meat for taste, and eat it over rice or noodles. Some of my friends were picky eaters, and didn’t like all their food mixed like that, but grandpa always said, “It’s all on its way to the bay anyway!” Everything is everything. In this case, I guess everything is shit. And honestly that seems like a more relatable adage some days.
When grandpa died- because he was old and that’s how stories about grandpas and dogs end, with death- he asked to be cremated and have his ashes spread in the river or the ocean. My mom went through the stages of grief like a she was following a checklist.
You should have seen her bargaining at the end, “We will just get him on a juicing diet and have him drink this chaga tea!” I told you. Hippies. He was already in hospice care though. We were saying goodbye.
After he died, the anger set in, and it set hard for mom. Being raised by hippies is fun in a lot of ways, but my mom felt abandoned and unloved. She kept calling me, listing her complaints against my dead grandfather. Everything he did wrong had to be laid out and looked at, like when you decide to Konmari your house and you put every dish on your kitchen table and keep only those that “spark joy.” My mom had to spread out her memories and felt all the anger. For a while, that helped her shove all the loving memories in a box to hold the pain and sadness back.
In one of these fits of anger, she gave him his burial at sea- goldfish style. She flushed him down the toilet. “It’s all on the way to the bay anyway, right?”
If grandpa had believed in heaven and hell, I’d envision him laughing hysterically at his ashes being flushed from some ethereal plane. Instead, his bodily consciousness is just… gone. His earthly being, transformed through fire -the starstuff that he was made of- is in the septic tank now. Or maybe in the earth. Or possibly, it has made it to the San Francisco Bay. I don’t really know much about the waterworks situation. But it doesn’t really matter, because everything is everything.