Sunday, November 15, 2009

10,000 Years in the Fire is Long Enough (Adventures of Lolo)

When my grandfather on my mother's side died, I was playing Doom 2. The final level, which took me ages to beat without cheating (and which I've still only beaten once or twice total). My father came up behind me and put his arm on my shoulder. It took me a moment to notice. I paused the game, and he just said "It's over." Within moments, the ensuing silence was broken by my sister, who was not quite five yet, bursting into tears.

I was asleep at 7am this morning when my other grandfather died.

Today, though, I felt like I should give him a game. And as I've been badly neglecting this blog, the game was picked as The Adventures of Lolo series, a set of three NES puzzle games that are one of my all-time favorites. The concept is simple enough - it's a jazzed up Sokoban where you push boxes around to block enemies and collect hearts. You can also shoot enemies sometimes and turn them into eggs that can be pushed around. Get all the hearts, get out of the level, rinse, wash, repeat.

I confess, I slanted my time around a bit here - having beaten both of the first two games in the series within the last year or two, I put in only token efforts on them before plowing into Lolo 3 more wholeheartedly.

The game is genuinely pleasant. The puzzles start easy but have a pretty quick ramping up, with the game getting to the solidly tricky before level 20, and quickly attaining outright deviousness.

Were I to outright pick video games to play based on associations with my grandfather, he'd get a bunch of stuff that I played on a computer I cannot actually remember what was. It was an old, old computer, green-only display. I may have played Oregon Trail on it. I remember a game involving rocks. Clearly these were not formative moments.

Here are formative moments with my grandfather:

1) When I visited him in Texas, he would take me to get a haircut, and "bribe me with ice cream" subsequently.

2) He would, when I visited him in Texas, take me daily to a playground, generally cycling among several during my stay there.

3) When I was in Texas, my time was occupied primarily with audiobooks I would get from their library in Texas and books I brought with me. Doctor Who books one or two years, Wizard of Oz books another. As my taste in books was not that well developed, mostly I listened to Douglas Adams while I was there, and the entire Hitchhiker's trilogy, which I've read many times, is still more associated with their house than anywhere else.

4) Mexican food. Which I had a lot in Texas, as you might imagine.

5) Pickles. This is a strange one, I know. But my grandfather would sooner die than not have his daily happy hour (that was an unfortunate choice of metaphors). And at those happy hours I would enjoy snacks of pickles and olives. I mostly just liked olives for the pimentos, which I in no way realized were not naturally part of an olive.

I can think of a few individual stories here and there to tell of Granddad - him helping me move out of my dorm at Wooster against everyone but my father's advice. Him helping finance more than one computer my family bought because he was a bit of a gadget geek.

But I can remember more of Nintendo games than I can of my own grandfather. Or, perhaps more accurately, I feel as though Nintendo games form more points in what I remember of my childhood - which is already more a series of disparate points than anything else. I can mulch my brain and dredge up occasional things - I remember a trip to Texas where I was briefly obsessed with magic tricks, and bought props for many, several of which were actually fairly neat.

But most of my relationship to him is buried in odd and scattered memories that do not form a whole. I am well short of understanding.

Much of what I remember of my childhood is Nintendo games. They occupied much of my life through fifth grade. From middle school through to high school the focus slowly shifted towards PC gaming, and I had my period there, but for my out and out childhood, it was Nintendo. And it is there that I have my memories.

By the time I came to the work of understanding my family, my grandfather had already suffered two strokes. They left him mostly blind. He retired early to golf, read, and paint. Only reading was left to him, and that only through books on tape. And since then it has been a slow fade, with points of steeper decline and points of optimism. By the end, it was mercy.

I came to know him late, then - through a family reunion in Iowa that I confess I had little interest in, but came to appreciate in the end. And through the paintings of his I slowly acquired. There are four. Three hang in the living room - a forest at night, a barn on a lake in grayscale, and an autumnal lake. Above my desk hangs a fourth - a stream running through woods in the winter. These last two I asked for because I wanted things that would remind me of winter and fall when I was in Florida, and did not really have either.

I have an SD card with every Nintendo game ever released on it. Much of the rest of my childhood is coming out on DVD, or is available in massive torrents of comics. I can go back to these things that I am already so rich with memories of.

But my grandfather is, now, well and truly gone. And has been for some time. Scattered memories that do not form a whole, and four paintings are the whole of it.

I love puzzles because they are solvable. Adventures of Lolo is no exception. If that is all I remember of my childhood, perhaps this is not as somber a fact as I make it out to be.

Forgetting is as cruel as it is merciful.

I do not know that I believe in the afterlife. But it is my fervent hope that something, whether it be my grandfather's soul or simply some small corner of existence, will remember this:

I miss you, Granddad.

Tomorrow, I think that I will get a haircut, treat myself to ice cream afterwards, and order Mexican food for dinner.


  1. i can't even remember how lolos 1-3 end; time for a revisit no ... great post.

  2. Wonderful piece. The idea of having so many tangible 'memory banks' available through various discs and cartridges is not lost on me. There are many games that never fail to take me back to a very specific time in my life. The opening screen of Super Mario Brothers 3 is forever associated with the smell of my grandmother's house and the taste of root beer floats made with the kind of rich vanilla my parents never bought.

    There's a stark realization in the fact that I can never fail to recall the specifics of old NES games or things like "The Goonies", but my memories of my own grandfather are limited to a hazy congregation of ideas - a pool table, chopsticks being played on an out of tune piano, and card or rope tricks being performed by large, wrinkly hands.

    Thanks for the food for thought.