You always believed I would take the world by storm.
Awkward, meek little me, with oversize glasses and a notebook hugged against a skinny body.
You opened your arms and smiled, and after our bear hug, you tugged gently at the ears that were too big for my head. "You've got lucky elephant ears," you said.
"What does that mean?" I knew your answer by heart, but this was a ritual between us, you and I, and you happily obliged.
"It means that you're a very, very smart girl, and that you'll be very, very successful."
And you would pull out a bag of Werther's Originals, your favorite, and I would open a candy wrapper for you and you would open a candy wrapper for me and all would be right with the world.
You asked me about school over a box of Chips Ahoy - the chewy chocolate chip kind, my favorite - as I dunked cookies into milk until they broke apart, sinking to the bottom of the glass in a soggy, sugary sediment.
Whatever worries I confessed, you nodded your wise, gray head and promised that all would be well. I would get a A in math (no matter what Daddy said); that boy would like me (how could he not?); and that friend would invite me to her birthday party (even though she had left me out of the last one).
Of your seven beloved grandchildren, I was the only girl, the princess, the favorite.
Everything I did was perfect and right in your eyes. You laughed at everything I said, took my side against Mom, and bought me whatever I looked at.
Some men are born to be girls' dads and some are born to be boys' dads, and mine was the latter, too often absorbed in his sons to bother much with a lowly daughter. But to you, I was something special. You were the only one who bothered to look for the flame inside me, to cup your hands around its fragile light and protect it from the wind.
I told you I wanted to write books, and you never belittled or scolded or bent down the corners of your mouth, the way they all did. You just told me that I could do whatever I wanted, because I was your precious Elephant Ears and I was born into this world to be somebody.
You believed, even before I did, that those journals I scribbled in when I was supposed to be studying fractions would amount to something. You had exchanged wealth and consequence for a mere middle-class existence in this strange land across the sea, and damn it, you had done it for me, so that I could succeed.
Even now, when no phone or letter could ever reach you, still I think of you tugging my ears when I'm feeling low and it reminds me of our heart-to-hearts over cookies and milk. It reminds me that you always thought my dreams were worthwhile, and it gives me hope that you'd be proud of who I am today.
Whatever happens from here on out, I promise I'll keep tugging my lucky elephant ears in your honor.
Love and miss you, Grandpa.