Wednesday, August 24, 2011


I want you to know my grandpa.  Not because he passed away tonight.  Not because he was my grandpa.  But because he was what every grandfather should be.

I am extremely blessed.  I was able to spend many years getting to know the men that helped to raise my parents.  For the early period of my life I lived moments away from my mother's father and many of my afternoons and weekends were spent with my grandfather and grandmother.  My mother's father passed away a few years ago and it was hard to say goodbye but knowing that alzheimer's and parkinson's had taken over his body helped me to see the benefit in his going to be with God.

My father's father was so very different and yet very much the same as my other grandfather.  I can't pinpoint the exact differences...well, I could, but really I want to talk to you about grandfather...not give you a compare and contrast.

What do I think of when I think of my grandfather?  There are a few things that come to mind.

I think of his Naval hats- he always seemed to have a different hat with a different boat on them.  He was in the Navy- a radio man.  But he was different and made sure that people knew it- he was not on the front lines, other men were.  There was a distinction between him and those that went off to fight and he never let it be forgotten that his job in the Navy was not that of a soldier on the front lines.

I think of his chair.  Oh my goodness, his chair.  The earliest chair of his that I remember was this dark-ish blue fabric.  And NO ONE except grandpa sat it in.  Usually.  I managed to weasel my way into the chair quite often.  There were surprises in the chair or really around the chair.  There was the keyboard behind the chair that was especially for the grandkids.  It was always in the box.  The batteries were never dead.  And we were never NOT allowed to play it.  Then there was the cabinet next to the chair.  I only discovered this cabinet AFTER my grandfather pointed it out to me.  The cabinet housed all sorts of things but mainly it housed cheez-its or graham crackers.  HIS SNACKS.  They always tasted better when they came out of the cabinet because it felt like I was sharing something with him that no one else might have been able to. 

His chair, not the same blue one, still sits in the corner of the living room.  It's there and it's like the focal point of the room, after the rifle that hangs just above the couch.  The chair has the perfect sight line for, well, everything.  From his chair, my grandfather could see the TV, the front porch, who was driving up the driveway, who came into the house and what was going on in the kitchen.  Whereas, when I think of my mother's parents I think of their dining room table and the meals we shared around it.  When I think of my grandfather, I think of that chair and the times we spent trying to get into it and be near him.

What else comes to mind when I think of my grandfather?

Grilled chicken.  Other than my husband, I don't think I've ever seen anyone consume as much grilled chicken as my grandfather.  And really it was more in the past few years that he clung on to that grilled chicken, but in the numerous lunches I ate with him, I'm not sure I saw him eat much more than grilled chicken. 

Sawdust.  What?  Yes, sawdust.  My grandfather, for so many years, was a woodworker.  Not by trade.  Not as his career.  But his hobby.  Something he enjoyed.  Something that so many of us in our family benefitted from.  I hated going in the basement at my grandparents' house because the steps scared the shit out of me but I knew that once I got to the bottom of the steps there was a stool there that I could sit on and watch my grandfather, and usually my dad, work together on a project or simply cut a piece of wood that was needed to repair something.  Occasionally, I'd get to work the table saw.  I'd get to paint something or hammer something.  I was never ever ignored and there was always something to see, learn, or hear down there.  When the workshop was moved out to the barn nothing changed except for location. And I didn't have to use those freakishly shabby steps!  There was always the smell of cut wood and sawdust all over the workshop, the barn, my grandfather.  I'm not sure exactly when it was that I realized that the workshop really wasn't getting used anymore but I do remember feeling a sense of sadness knowing that my grandfather wasn't really going out there anymore.

I could talk more about these places or things but I don't think I'm giving you picture that I want you to have.  I want you to know about the selflessness that he had.  I want you to understand what he did for his family.  I want you to know how he would sit with me and lovingly mock his own children and their ridiculousness.  I want to share with you the things I KNOW he only said to me- like how when he and my grandmother were raising their mess of children they never had enough money but when they needed it, it always came through.  It was always there.  Those have been words that have comforted me as my husband and I try to navigate raising a much smaller family.  They were also words that made my father laugh out loud when I shared them with him. 

I want you to understand that my grandfather was a man who never, ever, stopped working even up until this, his last day.  He worked his way up in his company.  He worked to raise his family in the best way he possibly could.  He worked to show his grandchildren love and comfort and humor in everything he did.  And today he worked to keep breathing so that my son and I could spend some time with him before he left to be in a far better place than this one.

I want for you to know that my children will hear wonderful stories of him and the things he did and said during his life.  My children and my grandchildren, God willing, will know that he loved life and he loved his family and friends unceasingly.  They will see pictures and papers that help to tell the story of his life.  They will see doll cradles and book cases and Christmas decorations all lovingly handcrafted in his workshop.  They will get a piece of my grandfather, their Big Grandpa, that only memories can give them. 

I want for you to know more than I can put here because I could really go on forever.  The sarcasm, the cheek that was always put up and waiting for a kiss when you arrived at his home, the love for his ridiculous poodle that often was treated better than family members, the numerous fake chickens in the living room whose presence is still unexplained, the boats and ships and nautical decorations that kept him in touch with his love of the beach and the ocean, and so much more.  I really could go on forever.

More than anything else, I want you to know that while I know, because of my faith and his, that he has gone on to a better place free from suffering, pain, and illness and full of friends and family, it sucks to be left behind.  But I cling to my memories, I cling to the memories of my family, the stories, the photos that have been everywhere lately thanks to my wonderful cousin.  I cling to the fact that it is my job to make sure that my children know their Big Grandpa.  And I tell you all of this because knowing him has made me a better person who truly knows love and I firmly believe that you knowing this little piece of him will help you to know love, as well.

And I want you to know that every time I smell cut wood and sawdust, I will forever think of my grandfather and miss him.

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