SMALL THINGS

SMALL THINGS

In loving memory of Sidney Browne (August 4,1921- November 5, 2018)

My grandad passed away on Monday, November 5th. 

He was 97.

He lived a long and amazing life

Yet still…

It happened quickly

A few minutes after a nurse said we had 

Maybe 3 or 4 more days

One moment he was here.

The next he was gone.

He slipped away when my grandma went out for coffee

My mom thinks he did that on purpose

He knew he needed to go but 

he could not leave if she were there 

Couldn’t give up with her in the room

They’d been companions for so long 

Married for over 75 years.

Can you imagine? 

To know someone for so long

To choose the often rocky road of love and

Commitment 

Over and over

To persevere, 

Preserve 

Protect 

Support

Accompany 

Another human being 

Through so many changes

So many times

So many places

So many versions of themselves?


It’s beautiful and mysterious to me. 


I’ve often thought about how much my grandparent’s have lived through 

The living history they represent

The loss of experience their passing will bring

I’m not ready for it

Are we ever ready for it?

They courted during the Blitz on London

Both working in the Telephone Exchange

Her as a switchboard operator

Him as a technician

Chaperones prohibiting communication 

Between men and women

He gathered his courage

One day

To patch into her switchboard 

To say

“Hello Joan”

My grandad finished his memoirs in late July

The title

“From Small beginnings”

It’s the small things I remember.

When I was a child I’d spend my weekends with my grandparents

Saturday nights 

Were culinary delights

Like

Red and white takeout containers and 

paper bags on the kitchen table

Peking duck, plum sauce, and thin pancakes

The drip and crunch of fat

The melting tang of sweet and smoky

Or

Fudruckers!

Beef burgers and 

melted cheese and 

French fries dissolving 

between teeth

Then

Sunday mornings I’d crawl into their bed 

Grandad would make tea.

We’d sit in our pajamas with china cups and saucers 

Milano cookies precariously perched on the rims

Cookie crumbs and 

milk on the sheets.

Then

Grandad would cook Sunday breakfast 

The only meal he ever made

Bacon and

Eggs and

Fried tomatoes and

Toast

Then

Sunday night 

Family dinners

Grandma would cook

Reunited with my parents

Meat and 

Vegetables and

Gravy and

Puddings and

Arguments and

Love

Small things

Feed me

Small things

Lead me

Small things

The ping pong table in the garage of their house in VA

Silbo - best dog ever

Telescopes

Stargazing

A massive globe in the study

Adventure beckoning

England

Ghana

Holland

U.S.A

Sculptures and knick-knacks from all corners of the earth

Nefriti and

Wedgwood and

Mahogany and

Kimono silk and

Chiming clocks and

Books

So many books.

The way he’d sit at the head of the table

Christmas trees

Toasts at holiday meals

Wine glasses clinking

Ruby reds and sparkling whites

Cardigans and golf shirts 

Hands, 

gnarled fingers interlaced 

beneath his chin or

Resting on his stomach

Hugs

Unsolicited advice

Manners

Propriety 

Rumination

Often awkward silence

Unable to bridge the gaps

Staying anyway

In the spaces between

NASA plaques

Buried in the back of his study closet

Haphazardly stacked

Gathering dust

Accidentally discovered while retrieving wine bottles.

Realizing at 15 I’d never asked him what he used to do. 

Wondering why he’d hide accolades and awards

Like skeletons and broken expectations

They are on display again now

Out in the open

Pride restored.

Pride.

Years of persisting

Despite all odds

Epitome of

Keep calm and 

Carry on

Bionic man with

Medicare plan

The world got small again

Measured in pain and perseverance

Conversations about daily existence

Small things that loom large.

For someone who specialized in the technical aspects of communication

Radios

Telephones

Satellites

He was not a good communicator

Not a listener

Of/To the feel of things

Of/To time and place

Of/To the needs of others

Of/To small things

The empty spaces behind and between words. 

Small things that loom large

Until the end

He knew how to say 

“I love you”

And he did

Repeatedly

I’m so grateful for your 

I love you’s

For our

I love you’s

I love you.

****

A week before my grandad died, I was at the opening ceremony for the “Reimagine End of Life” Festival here in New York. One of the standout speakers was Frank Ostaseski - a pioneer in end of life care who founded the Zen Hospice Project and the Metta Institute. All of his speech was amazing but the thing that stuck out the most was what he said about what people care about at the end of their lives. Can you guess what matters most?

LOVE 

The two questions people ask are:

“Did I love well?” 

and

“Was I loved?”

Grandad 

You loved 

and 

You are loved.

Love,

Small things remain

Love,

Small things persist

Love,

Small things are 

what 

we 

are 

made 

of

Love.

My Grandad circa 2014

My Grandad circa 2014

My Grandparents on their wedding day - February 6, 1943

My Grandparents on their wedding day - February 6, 1943