Today would have been my Grandpa’s birthday. It’s the first he’s not here to celebrate. I know he lived a rich and full life, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t selfishly want him to be around forever.
I can’t say I’ve ever truly experienced grief before. I was merely a child when my dad’s mom passed. Even my Grandma, I was sad, but it still wasn’t the same. I was very close to Grandpa, more close than I was to Grandma. And even though I was a teen when she passed, I still don’t think my mind was mature enough to fully realize both the importance she played in my life and the finality of her death. So this emotion is not one I’m accustomed to.
It seems to blubber up at the most random of times. I was watching Coco with my son, a granted emotional movie but one everyone loves, and it made me weep. I’ve had dreams he appeared in and I’d wake up crying. We were watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and my son was certain that Sean Connery was his great grandpa. He kept saying things like, “hey look! Its Grandpa!”, “what’s Grandpa doing?!” And “Go Grandpa!”. I can understand the confusion, especially to a young mind. He did have a white beard like the one Dr. Jones Sr. has. He was an educator, and during his years of teaching he did wear some outfits similar to the style of Jones. Had I noticed any kind of similarity between my Grandpa and Sean Connery? No. But now I do. And just the simple sound of my child’s voice calling out for Grandpa welled up a deep sadness within me. Not only does my kid not understand Grandpa is gone forever, but hearing that tiny voice say his name tore me down to the core.
My Grandpa was born on a farm and grew up through the Great Depression. He could recall riding a horse, with his younger brother, to school and the very first electric light ever installed on their farm. At 17, he joined the United States Navy and served in World War 2 and the Korea conflict. He served as a cook the majority of the time, but he was also a look out and a gun cleaner. Normally cleaning guns seems like a small task, except that these guns were the massive cannons found on battleships, not handheld muskets. There is a photograph of him, sitting on the end of one of these cannons, over the edge of the ship, just dangling hundreds of feet over the water.
After he left the Navy, he went to school, where he met my Grandma. She was a very strong willed, take charge kind of woman. Which fit perfectly because Grandpa was a very laid back, go with the flow kind of guy. They were not the stereotypical family unit of the 1950s. Grandma worked to put Grandpa through grad school when their kids were young, though she was further educated than he was. They were both teachers and they both loved it. Grandma handled all the finances, while Grandpa did all the cooking. We always joked that he never adjusted to cooking for such a small group. He still cooked enough food to feed a boat. We always got containers full of food because he’d cooked too much again. He and Grandma were married for 55 years before she passed.
He was incredibly witty and always had a quip ready to fire. Even into his old age. At some point he has made a snarky remark about everybody, even the people he liked. If you did something he didn’t appreciate, he was sure to let you know. Never, in all my life did I hear him say one snarky or unpleasant thing about Grandma. I know they had to have argued and bickered. They were married 55 years and raised two kids, they had to have disagreements. I know Grandma would get annoyed with him sometimes. You could hear it in her voice and she’d call to him using his first and middle name. But for all that, he’d say, he didn’t remember any of their disagreements. Maybe because he’d chosen to forget them. When the dementia started to progress he’d have these “visions” he called them. They were so vivid, he was sure they were real. Once he swore there was a dog on the back patio for instance. Rarely did they include a person, but the few times they did, it was always Grandma.
One of my favorite memories is from a few years ago. The local symphony orchestra did a Disney Fantasia show. I love Fantasia with all my being, and Grandpa loves symphony orchestras, so I bought us tickets to go see it. I think the fact parents had taken the opportunity to bring their children made him even happier. He was joyful and beaming. It still is the most vivid and happy memory I have with him.
Not that it was my only happy memory, in the least. I have several with him on road trips, stopping at some hole in the wall restaurant because he had a feeling they had good BBQ. He would go all the way to Maine for lobster, Fredricksburg, TX for pecans, and New Iberia for some omelette. In fact, a lot of our travelling revolved around good food.
He loved his grandchildren, but he especially loved the great-grandchildren. When he went in for a hip surgery, he rolled around the hospital with my oldest on his lap proclaiming to all the nurses that this was his great-grandson, and he was named after him. I never saw him happier than the Thanksgiving my niece, then about 6, just learned how to read, sat next to him and read him book after book. He was able to meet the youngest member of the family just weeks before he passed, my brother’s daughter, and he was still alert at the time. I know how important that was to both my Grandpa and my brother.
He never dated or remarried after Grandma’s passing. He was in love with her until the very end. When he died, I knew he was ready to go. He was tired and aching.
I guess I can hold onto the fact that I can tell my son all the great stories about the person he was named after. That I know he has some of his own memories of him. He did get to see all of his grandchildren marry and have families of our own. It is some joy to me that my husband and Grandpa liked each other so much. That his legacy lives on in our memory and in the influence his life had on ours.
But none of that stops the welling emotion, or the tears the come up and cannot be stopped. That instead of today being cheerful, it’s a solemn reminder of the magnificent man we lost.