Friday, October 19, 2007

I love you, Grandpa

The man who was my (biological) paternal grandfather died when I was small. I don't consciously remember him except in the photographs of his very serious face and the stories my mom told me about how I, as a baby, found him so fascinating that I would stare at him, unblinking, for hours. He was, by all accounts, a difficult man to understand and love.

I suppose that is why it always struck me as somehow poetic that my grandmother then married someone who, I have to imagine, was my biological paternal grandfather's polar opposite. My grandpa. He has always been my grandpa...as long as I can remember. Even though the greeting cards were always signed, "Mahlon and Ruby," I always referred to them as grandpa and grandma. And today I learned that my grandpa is gone.

Family with blood connections could not have been closer and more loved than this family created by marriage. A fact that he prided himself on. A fact that he stated directly to me that Christmas visit when I was pregnant with Samuel when he held my hand and whispered to me, in confidence, "I consider them all my children...and you all my grandchildren...regardless of how it happened to come about."

He was the life of any party...able to laugh and make everyone else laugh. That's what I will remember the most...his laughter...his smile...that spirit that made everyone like him no matter where we went. He flirted with waitresses...no...he flirted with every woman he ever met...in a charming and endearing way that made everyone want to be around him. He could meet a person and consider him or her a friend in less than ten minutes. And he ALWAYS saw the value of new friends.

I think I was about 10 years old when we went on a family vacation out west. We road a bicycle built for two, my grandpa and me. And we were late everywhere we went because he always had time to stop to talk to new people...to tell a story...to play a trick...to offer a bit of advice. Not overbearing and not condescending...just friendly.

He love to explore new places. Places you have never heard of...and places you've only heard of in books but never imagined actually visiting. If something struck his interest, he would head in that direction and not be satisfied until he had figured out the who's and why's and what's. Where in the heck IS Wall Drug? Grandpa could tell you. I remember when the fuel pump went out on the truck at the top of a mountain and Grandpa drove it BACKWARDS down the mountain to the nearest service station (and then drove it back up so he could see what he was there to see...he would NOT be deterred).

He collected pens. It started out as a collection from each of the fifty states in the Union and developed into a pen collection from every interesting place he visited (and from most of the interesting people he had met along the way). At last count, I think he had several hundred pens.

He was the kind of grandpa who would visit you once a year and make you feel as if you had never missed a day apart. He couldn't use the telephone because he was so hard of hearing and he never wore his hearing aids...but yet he ALWAYS knew what was going on with the family. He was a farmer...and his home and his family were important.

He loved to play games. Every Christmas, once the dinner dishes were washed and the wrapping paper carnage was burning in the fireplace of the old farmhouse, he would call us all together for a rousing game of UNO. Young and old...as many as we could fit around the kitchen table...we would play cards and tell stories and laugh and eat leftovers. The games would often stretch into the night until someone was declared the ultimate winner or too many of us became too bleary-eyed and could not see the cards properly (or just outright fell asleep sitting in place).

The last few years were not kind to grandpa. He suffered a series of strokes that left his personality a mere shadow of what it had been. The things I loved about him were slowly replaced with the characteristics common to those with advancing Alzheimer's. And I will admit that I did not visit since the Christmas when he said some hurtful things to me. Not because I was angry with him for saying them, but because I know he didn't mean them. I know that was not him speaking...not really. And selfishly I just could not stand to have any more of my happy memories of him replaced with anything different. And though I feel like I'm making excuses, I knew that my fragile emotions could not handle anything else than love and happiness. I wanted him to always remain as I remembered him...I wanted to remember my grandpa. So I stayed away and did not have the chance to say goodbye. I am a coward in that regard, but I do not regret it now...because I can remember and smile. I think grandpa would have approved of that.

22 comments:

Jill said...

"he would NOT be deterred"

Seems some family traits are learned:)

I am so very sorry for your loss. Your tribute is beautiful and it sounds as though he has left a sizable vacuum in his wake. May he rest peacefully with the return of all his memories ((hugs))

Aurelia said...

He sounds like a wonderful grandpa.

daysgoby said...

I'm so very sorry.

Amazing, isn't it, the people our hearts call family...

Bronwyn said...

My condolences, Kate. Your grandpa sounds like he was a fantastic guy. It's wonderful that you were so close and that you have so many happy memories of him. He must have felt very blessed.

The Nanny said...

What beautiful memories you have of your grandfather, and one day they will mean so much to Sam and Myles, too.

He sounds like such a great guy, the world will miss him.

Ruby said...

What a beautiful tribute to your grandfather.

I'm so sorry for your loss.

B said...

I'm sorry, Catherine. What a beautiful tribute to an obviously beautiful man.

Brandie

Kathy McC said...

(((hugs)))

Julie said...

You gave a wonderful tribute to a man you clearly love and respect. I'm very sorry for your family's loss.

Marcia said...

How wonderful that you have had so many loving and happy memories to sustain your family through these years of gradually losing the Grandpa you all loved. He has left a beautiful legacy that will carry on for generations to come. My deepest sympathies to you, Catherine!

Angel Mom said...

He sounds like the grandpa everyone should have. I'm sorry for your loss but glad that you have wonderful memories and beautiful pictures to remember him by.

pipsylou said...

I am sobbing. I needed this tonight, C. More than you will ever know. God you have a way with words. I've made a mess of myself. What a wonderful tribute.

Lori said...

I'm crying with you and I miss him too, even though I never met him.

What a beautiful bond between family...thank you so much for sharing it...My Grandpas have both been gone for a very long time, and it's nice to remember that amazing kind of love.

Suz said...

What a lovely tribute to your Grandpa. He sounds like a truly wonderful man.

Julia said...

Your grandpa sounds like a wonderful man. I am glad you have all these lovely memories of him. I know what you mean about the change coming on-- my own grandmother is slowly slipping, and it is not pretty.

I am so sorry for your loss.

Bon said...

i loved this tribute, Catherine. and i don't think you're a coward, at all...who, really, wouldn't want to be remembered in the end with love and happiness?

i am sorry for your loss, but also for the loss that the last few years have been...and glad that you have, still, a heart full of love to write this.

Monica said...

I loved the photos you shared and for a brief moment I could feel his caring presence. I'm so glad you have so many wonderful memories of your grandpa that will keep his spirit alive inside you.

Kendra's mom said...

I am so sorry about your grandpa. My grandpa is also from a remarriage but we have always considered him blood.

What a lovely tribute.

Tricia said...

I'm sorry for the loss of your grandpa.

I struggled with not visiting my grandfather for the last 6 months of his life but it was just too hard to look at this man and not see any bit of the grandpa I loved. The best I can offer you is the viewpoint I've taken in order to deal with the guilt that followed. He didn't know me for those last six months and I didn't know him at that point. Our goodbyes and true hugs were before that. I could have hugged him a thousand times during the six months but it wouldn't have made a difference. I wouldn't have filled the void of my grandpa in my life and likely would have just scared him. Not sure it justifies me avoiding the situation but as you well know, sometimes protecting your emotional state in whatever little way you can is all you have.

I absolutely hate this disease.

I'm so sorry.

Everyone Has a Story... said...

I had a grandpa like that...miss him alot. (1989)

So sorry to hear about your grandpa, may he rest in peace, knowing he was loved.

Lurker Kim

Shinny said...

So very sorry for the loss of your grandpa.

MB said...

Catherine,

I'm so glad you have such fond memories. I'm sorry for your loss.

M