Response #8 – Max Apple’s “Roommates”

In this short essay, Apple gives us a profile of his grandfather. It is clear that he loves his grandfather, and the title suggests that they had a good and close relationship. But Apple doesn’t shy away from giving us a textured, full picture. Note in particular the word choices in the second paragraph: “argued”; “not a gentle…”; “screamed at his fellows in the bakery”; “lover of strife.” In his sleep, he explodes “in anger” and curses in both English and Yiddish. The goal of a profile is to get the reader to know the subject, without sugar coating. By showing peoples’s flaws as well as their more positive characteristics, a reader will grow to know them.  

I would also like to point out the turn on page 64. Given its content, we might have expected this to be about the grandfather’s aging and inevitable decline. When Apple’s wife is diagnosed with a neurological disease, it is his grandfather who becomes a caretaker; perhaps not what we expected. That little turn is a surprise for the reader.

In your response below note any aspects about the essay you find compelling. Do either the author or his grandfather make you think about relationships in your own life? How do you feel about the grandfather by the end?

Please post by Tuesday, April 7

 

21 Comments for “Response #8 – Max Apple’s “Roommates””

Katherine Keith

says:

After the introductory paragraph, the essay follows chronologically over three time periods. It begins when Apple is in elementary school then proceeds on to college, as a family man, and a broken man. The common themes throughout each time period are the grandfather’s amazing snoring habits, how he talks in his sleep during nightmares, his harmless but constantly peeved personality, and their amicable non-demonstrative companionship.

It would have been difficult to determine how much backstory to include in this short essay. Where were Apple’s parents and grandmother? These details are not relevant to their relationship but came to mind. Focusing on the profile alone might make these irrelevant.

Anyone that has lived with their grandparent for the better part of 43 years deserves admiration. Who is taking care of who? As an elementary student, Apple had the compassion to believe that his grandfather needed or wanted the wise schooling from his grandson after a hard day’s work. While in the prime of his life at graduate college, Apple again became roommates with his grandfather. His grandfather stayed with him through Apple’s marriage and fathering of two children. Despite this being a profile about his grandfather, Apple shared his personal vulnerability. This was important because it allowed the reader to learn how the grandfather held the family together. With no need for explanation or understanding the reasoning behind it, at 103 years old the grandfather just started doing the work.

Near the end of the essay, a year before his grandfather’s death, Apple states, “I saw how much there was to do.” Indicating that Apple has come full circle and that, through all their years together, he has learned what his grandfather has always demonstrated throughout his life. Apple reinforces this again a few sentences later by writing, “there’s always a lawn to mow,” an activity the grandfather engaged in according to the introductory paragraph. I did not have any personal connection to this story, but this did not prevent me from being engaged in the high quality essay.

dlfarmer

says:

Good, Katherine. What you say here about backstory is an important point. It’s difficult sometimes to determine what to include and what not to include. For me, the answer is in staying within the confines of the narrative. Here, the essay is about the relationship with Apple’s grandfather. To give too much backstory would change those confines, and make the essay about something other than that. For me, part of the first draft is determining what the confines of the narrative are. Then, the goal is to stay within that. Every individual essay has it’s own rules, of course.

Diana Ramstad

says:

“There’s always a lawn to mow,” as Apple states sum up his Grandfather and their situation. In Apple and his Grandfather’s case means, in this case, there is always something to be doing, and his Grandfather is doing it. Apple has lived with his Grandfather for a good bit of 43 years and has felt the need to impart wisdom, but then learning over time about getting knowledge. His Grandfather and he have an intertwined relationship that, at some point, becomes entirely interdependent.
Apple and his Grandfather went through periods of living together, depending on where they were at in their lives. This essay gives us the readers a unique snapshot of their lives, and that is always fascinating. It is great to see how these two relate to each other. But then things take a turn as Apple finds someone to marry and have children with later in his life. His Grandfather at age 103 helps to take care of Apple’s children and starts doing things to make that happen.
The backstory might be interesting to explore, but hard to put into a short essay. It can be hard to know what to include. Apple does a good job exploring the relationship between himself and his complicated Grandfather as they live together. “The Circle of life” while might be overdone in the song “Lion King” seems to be demonstrated in this story as these two have certainly gone through a lot together.
I felt a personal connection with this essay. In the sense that I lived with my Grandmother through various stages in my life, as my family lived together four generations at one point. So, I can relate to learning and even imparting wisdom through multiple states of my life. So, this essay has struck home a bit while it is not exactly how I was raised. I understand the concept of family and feeling that deep loyalty and connection with my family.

dlfarmer

says:

Good, Diana. I’m glad you have that connection with this essay. I think you’re right, while not everyone has the same experiences, we can all relate to familial relationships.

Ana Hinkle

says:

Apple does a beautiful job of depicting his grandfather as a hard worker yet an abrasive and bristly man. His grandfather’s dreams set the foundation for this behavior as we’re made aware of his challenges and life experiences. I thought about my relationships with my parents, my mother in particular. I’ve thought about words I would use to describe my mother and have wondered what stories or memories I would share to paint a picture. I’ve questioned if the two (words and stories) would align. My thoughts have also led to a comparison of my relationship with my mother, particularly as a teenager, and my relationship with my own 15-year-old daughter. How is it I’m a lot like my mother but my daughter is more open, loving, daring with me than I was with my mother at her age?

I know that everyone shows love in different ways. While the grandfather may not say “I love you” or offer sympathy, advice, or understanding, he showed love by doing the work (taking out the garbage, playing with his children, etc.) and being Apple’s roommate throughout the different stages in Apple’s life. I doubt you would continue to live with someone if you didn’t enjoy their company. Supporting someone through difficult stages in life is love and Apple’s grandfather did just that. Although it may not be the most conventional way, it is still love.

dlfarmer

says:

Good, Ana. The question you pose at the end of that 1st paragraph could be a great lead in to an essay about these relationships.

Lucienne Anderson

says:

I really enjoyed reading this profile of the author’s grandfather. I think so often both in fiction and nonfiction, people shy away from pointing out the defects that people have. However, the difficulty parts of people are often what make them interesting and in fact make them so interesting. It’s difficult, though because if the person you write about is dead then it can see like you are not honoring their memory. If they are alive, they may be hurt by you pointing out their flaws. However, there is such beauty in capturing a person well if you are able to. That is what is intriguing about this piece- all the things that made his grandfather difficult to be around are what made him who he was.

dlfarmer

says:

Good, Lucie. I think you’re exactly right. I think for a writer writing a profile, the thing about flaws is that they are in part what makes us human. I recently went to an event to honor a friend who had died – I feel like the biggest smiles came when someone mentioned the person’s crusty ways, or some of the crazy things they did. These words just felt honest, and helped us to remember the person, fondly, flaws and all.

Erika Goddard

says:

Apple did a wonderful job describing his grandfather. You can get the feeling of what they’re relationship was like throughout the years. There’s even an understanding of who his grandfather is as a person instead of a character just by the quirks.
The author and his grandfather actually made me think of my own relationship with my grandparents. I learned quite a bit from them and how they typically go about their lives despite their age, and they were there to help my parents care for me and my siblings when we were going through rough times, somewhat similar to Apple’s grandfather.
I actually wasn’t sure what to make of Apple’s grandfather at first, particularly with how he seemed to love strife. But as the story progressed, I did find myself liking him. While he may seem to be a cranky old man, the story still showed that the grandfather did care for Apple, from doing most of the work around the apartment to teasing him with the newspaper. And even when he didn’t understand or sympathize the depression Apple was going through; he was still there to help him take care of the kids. In a way, he was a gentle soul.

dlfarmer

says:

Good, Ericka. I think it’s that mix of cranky and gentle that helps bring the grandfather to life on the page.

Jennifer Karulski

says:

The grandfather was a compelling character in this piece because he defied stereotypes of either a sweet grandpa, or an old grump. He was a complex human. This made him a well rounded, interesting person. It would have been boring, and there would have been no story without these very human quirks.

I liked the two way street of their relationship. No one was being done a favor; neither were in a position of power. It was two people living life together. Life changes, often unexpectedly, and people are left to get on as well as they can. These two men were lucky to have each other as they negotiated life’s ups and downs.

I never considered writing about my own grandfather. He seemed too unique a character for a reader to be able to associate with, but this essay showed me that a person doesn’t have to fit into accepted roles to be worth reading about. I liked the grandpa in this essay. He was a real human being with a real story.

Isabelle Jacobson

says:

This essay made me emotional in a way I rarely get while reading something, but it really got to me. It captures a very loving and deep familial relationship that isn’t sugary sweet or all about forgiveness or being selfless, but instead it focuses on the more realistic interaction between grandfather and grandson. The generational gap causes a divide that often can’t be fully mended only because that division of experiences and technology and politics and societal standards is tough to fix because that would entail changing how both generations were raised and changing how they think. Still, oftentimes people find a way to get along just fine despite those differences and that sounds cheesy but there is something important in saying “agree to disagree”. This reminded me a lot of my relationship with my paternal grandmother. I never lived with her, but we have a similar relationship to Apple and his grandfather. She’s this Nebraskan woman in her late nineties who, despite having a stroke not that long ago and losing her husband, is still going to church on Sundays and grilling me on every aspect of my life anytime I see her. She’s “old-fashioned” in how she sees the world and we have different beliefs that we are both aware of. I didn’t grow up with her, but I always knew she was there for me, and now I’m there for her and it’s an odd switch that matures you greatly. Before her stroke, she’d always been quiet and reserved, but after it she realized there was no point in having a filter if your life could just end anyday. Rather than get held back by a difference in upbringing or beliefs, we tell each other stories. They’re true stories about our childhood or our significant others and we bond like we’re friends, not just family. It’s uncomfortable to think about death, and to think that the stories we tell we will both remember until the day we die, but she won’t live forever. Still, I think the fact that human life has an expiration date makes every interaction precious, whether you’re laughing with grandparents or fighting with siblings, it all has the same value. I really love that Apple spoke from experience, because he connected with everyone else who had a similar familial bond, and it seemed somewhat therapeutic to give his late grandad a small piece that would last forever and never die. I think that’s a really nice way to keep the memory of someone alive and share them with strangers to connect with too.

dlfarmer

says:

Good, Isabelle. Your grandmother sounds like a wonderful, interesting person. I hope I get to read more about her!

Aubri stogsdill

says:

Overall, I felt like this was a wonderful essay! Apple seems to give an honest and well rounded description of his grandfather. One thing I really enjoyed, was that even though Apple discussed how angry his grandfather was, and how this anger was manifested in his life, I never felt that I disliked the Grandfather, I actually felt compassion for him. I wondered what sort of experiences would have caused him to behave the way that he did. It was clear in his writing that Apple loved and appreciated his grandfather and had learned much from him. His grandfather was not the affectionate or compassionate type, but also loved Apple and was really there for him after his wife became ill.

As I read, this reminded me of my relationship with my grandma. She is a somewhat harsh woman with many different irritating and rude behaviors, but I know that she would do just about anything for her family. While all of her methods are not ideal, I’ve certainly seen her love our family in her own way and can certainly learn from her in a similar was as Apple learned from his Grandfather.

Liz

says:

I was drawn in by the depiction of the grandfather, “hating his enemies.” I wondered what had happened in Lithuania in the early part of the twentieth century that would have made him so angry and vengeful, which is a great feat in a piece of writing: the desire in the reader to dig a little deeper. I was also intrigued by the almost impassive way that Apple describes his grandfather; yes, there certainly seems to be love between him (you don’t invite your grandfather to live with you in grad school if you can’t stand him), but the writing is unsentimental. This seems to accomplish a few things. The first is that gives a reader some distance with which to view the relationship. The second, and perhaps more significant feat, is that it also gives Apple some distance. Given the significance of the relationship and of Apple’s loss upon the death of his grandfather, the instinct in the first draft, I imagine, would be to write a schmaltzy, romanticized essay about a person who probably didn’t even exist — the Cleaver family’s grandfather, if they had one. This would erase the complexities of the real person, and smooth the character out so he had no real personality left. Apple’s choice to write the un-gussied up truth is the more powerful one.

“Although by then he must have been wearing the shadow of death as an undershirt,” is an incredible line, and hit home for me. I had a great uncle who outlived all my grandparents, outlived nearly everyone in his generation for that matter. I was very close to him as a little girl, even when many of my other great uncles and aunts and my grandmother were still alive. We had cabins five doors down from each other on a lake in northern Maine, and in the summers I could traipse over and visit him whenever I wanted to. As I got older, he would take me around town on errands, teach me how to drive a truck, let me work with him in his big garden. When I moved to the west coast, I spent less and less time in Maine, so I stopped seeing him as much, but when I was pregnant with my daughter I felt compelled to make a trip specifically so that he could “meet” the baby. My husband and I spent a week or so at our cabin, wandering back and forth to see Uncle Paul. By this time he was 101. One day, we proposed taking him for lunch to the diner in town. While we were there, I saw the way people greeted him, saw how he ordered and spoke to the waitress, watched how he lost the thread of the conversation, and I realized it without having the words: he was wearing the shadow of death as an undershirt. He died at 103. Apple’s essay felt very personal.

dlfarmer

says:

Great response, Liz. Your Great Uncle Paul sounds like a wonderful person, who has given you a lot of great memories. Is this who you plan to write about? Your point about “distance” is an important one. It is hard to write about relationships while in the middle of them – it seems there’s a need to step back to create the right sense of reflection. Often this is time – we need a certain remove before we can write about some topics.

Logan McGinnis

says:

Apple paint’s such a vivid picture it’s as if i can see his grandfather. I love how he gives us the truth. life isn’t always beautiful and sometimes we get angry and things don’t go our way. This essay is proof of that. Apple tells us of his journey moving about, going to school, getting married, and so on. His grandfather is such a huge role in that not as one would think. Despite, not having that loving carefree spirit Apple manages to still paint a picture that has us as the reader feeling just as emotionally attached by the end.

Stefanie Burich

says:

Apple depicts his grandfather as a hard-working yet ornery old man who expressed his emotions through his work and processes them at night through his dreams. The imagery of him snoring and talking in his sleep and working hard was mentioned repeatedly, reiterating such a portrait. Grandpa seems to have had traumatic experiences which he relives during the night when he cusses and swears in Yiddish. He picks up the housework of his grandson in gradschool, and even in his advanced age of 103 he still picks up his grandson’s housework, even though ‘he did not understand what had happened to my wife and had no symphony for my depression. But he saw the work of daily life in front of him and, as always, he did it.’ I noticed that this sentence was very indicative of the personality Apple tries to portray in this essay. Grandpa also appears to be stubborn and living ‘on his own terms’, having outlived all of the friends of his own generation and then starting a new life in his 80s when he moved in with his grandson again. Apple isn’t overly emotional in his descriptions of their relationship, but neither is grandpa in his daily interactions. Apple’s way of describing grandpa seems consistent with grandpa’s personality and works really well here. The overall structure is quite the opposite of Toth’s essay, in which she focused on one particular theme or event to portray her characters. Apple gives us a big picture overview and a snapshot of his entire life, separated into three sections: his youth, his college years, and his time as an adult when his world falls apart. Grandpa clearly played an important role throughout all of these stages, and as such he becomes very endearing despite his seemingly rough persona. Similarly to Toth’s essay, focus here is on actions rather than descriptions, which allows the reader to create their own image of grandpa and his relationship to Apple. I’m still unclear on the meaning of the first sentence: ‘I came rather late to understanding myself in the cycle of life.’ It seems like a great and intentional opening, but I can’t quite grasp its significance. Any insight anyone?

Hunter

says:

I was very surprised by this essay. I have always been interested in the moment in time where my parents and I switch roles of taking care of each other when we are older. My brothers and I have already discussed who will take care of them–we’ve decided me. What I liked about this piece is it wrote about the type of love that I don’t think it explored really. It wasn’t fluffy and full of metaphors about withstanding time–it was realistic. Love in real life–especially familial–is sort of an unsaid thing (at least in my family). We don’t constantly say, “I love you,” or express admiration of one another. It is mostly the act of doing things for each other in order to say we care. I saw this relationship between Apple and his own grandfather. When things got rough, they were just there for each other in an unspoken agreement. A word that comes to mind is “toleration,” but I’m not sure that is the right word for it. But even when Apple’s grandfather was ornery and could be a little agitating, they still held respect for one another and it was a constant.
I found this essay incredibly helpful because for Essay #4 I will be writing about my grandmother. I had kind of unintentionally planned this Essay ahead and asked my grandmother about everything at the beginning of March. Apple does a great job of condensing the scope of his grandfather’s life without making it feel like gaps were missing. He picked which details to focus on that were relevant to the piece, but left others vague. I thought this was helpful to see because it never felt like the dreaded “info dumping.” Everything felt like it was in its place for the right reason. I’m hoping I can execute this essay with a fraction the amount of skill that Apple does.

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