It was January 17th, 2008 when I finally picked my mother’s black binder up off the shelf. A new year, full of resolutions, including one big one—to unearth and record my family history. I sat cross-legged on my couch in Seattle, the binder resting on my lap, took a long, slow breath, and flipped it open.

Glued to the first page was the program for my grandfather’s memorial service. At the top, a charcoal drawing of Papa in the place he loved most—bent over the keys of his Steinway baby grand; below it, the words he’d dictated to my mother just days before he died:

Engineer, globe-trotter, polyglot, composer, business man, philanthropist

My mother told me she’d asked my grandfather whether he thought people would know the meaning of the word polyglot. His response, apparently, was: “they can look it up.”

Listed at the bottom of the page was the date. January 17. I flipped open the program, noting the time of the service: 1:00 pm. I froze.

We sat in the second row, my mother, father, and I, our vertebrae pressed upright against the wood pews of Murray Unitarian Universalist Church in Attleboro, Massachusetts, the air ripe with the familiar scent of old hymnals, flowers, and candles. One of my grandfather’s compositions, a piece for cello and piano called “Lullaby,” played softly over the speakers (you can listen to it here):

 I was fourteen. It was my first memorial service. I was confused, sad, and mostly afraid—afraid my mother would break down crying and I’d do the same.  

Light-headed, I came to. I’d been holding my breath. Exhaling, I looked at my watch: 10:02 am Pacific time. I glanced back down at the program. The service had taken place fifteen years ago, to the exact day, and even minute.

My eyes welled with tears and I looked over my shoulder, half expecting to see a ghost of Papa in the doorway waving his cane at me, mumbling it’s about time!