We don’t chat in living rooms filled with cherrywood furniture or sip tea in gold-trimmed china cups.

No, there is no small talk, no family gossip, no storytelling between us.

Instead, Grandpa and I bond each summer when I sit down cross-legged on the floor beside his La-Z-Boy recliner. His feet are both propped up, which is especially good for his left foot, the one pierced by World War II shrapnel. The jagged piece of metal has lodged inside his ankle bone since World War II.

Grandpa and baby Rhian share a moment together.

Side by side we watch old Japanese warrior films that I cannot understand. But the movies are secondary, because I am busy learning about Grandpa by osmosis. I study his facial expressions for reaction to the plot. When does he lean closer to the screen? Or twitch with empathy for the characters? At what moment does he lose interest and shift his weight back into his favorite chair?

During commercial breaks I prepare a hot water foot massage bath and add Hawaiian rock salt to help draw the yellowish pus from his foot. I then help my mom cut Grandpa’s toenails and disinfect his wounds with a Q-tip saturated in iodine. We place bandages on his sores.

He nods, smiles, and softly says Thank you” before absentmindedly scratching the dressings off, as he watches the TV screen.

Grandpa is the only man I would ever think of learning to cook for. I want to cook tofu just right — golden on both sides. I sprinkle furikake seasonings over white sticky rice and slice omelets diagonally so they resemble floating buoys on top of steaming miso soup. And I serve it to him right before Wheel of Fortune.  

As Vanna White reveals the letters on screen, I can tell when Grandpa knows the answer: His eyes bulge forward slightly, and he chews a little faster.

My father wonders how my Grandpa and I fill the silent spaces, how we can build love from a relationship with no words.

My grandfather and I never speak.

At least not on a level where people can hear us.

In The Fray is a nonprofit staffed by volunteers. If you liked this piece, could you please donate $10?