I consider myself lucky. At the age of 28, I still have all four of my grandparents in my life. I know many people never get to even meet their grandparents and many more lose them when they are just children. All of mine are alive and well, with the exception of my Grandpa, and I consider myself blessed to have had relationships with both sets of my grandparents. You often hear that having grandchildren is better than having children and in many ways grandparents are far better than parents. My grandparents, both sets married for 50+ years and living in the same homes they raised their children in, have always been a constant in my life. With divorced parents and multiple homes throughout the years, going back to their house was a comfortable, reminder of childhood that I didn’t otherwise have. I am so grateful for that.
My Grandpa was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease several years ago. We all watched him slowly decline from his active, happy self to a slow moving, frail looking man, who showed little expression and didn’t talk nearly as much. But through it all you could still see little bits of his same old self peek through.
He was always the proper host and wanted to make sure you were comfortable at all times, a people pleaser in the best way possible. So much so that regardless of how not hungry you were, you’d eventually give in to letting him make you a sandwich after the 6th time he asked, even if you just ate Thanksgiving dinner. You knew he’d feel better knowing you were satisfied and you also knew he wasn’t going to give up. Even as it got harder for him to move around or use his fine motor skills, he wanted to help and be involved. Even when we should have been getting him drinks or food, he was relentless. It might take 12 minutes for him to make you a cocktail but he wanted to do it. In the morning, when the last thing I wanted to do was eat a big breakfast, he’d offer just about everything you could think of. Orange juice, pancakes, bacon, corn flakes (his favorite), a cinnamon roll… he’d be slightly appeased when I would give in to a cup of coffee and a vitamin. He loved his vitamins. He’d often get me an orange juice anyway.
He was one of the first non-college friends I drank with. My grandparents live in the same town I went to college in and during freshman year I’d often escape to their quiet home for a warm meal and a chance to do laundry (and see them of course). I was underage but he’d still offer me a drink every time. I was in college and there was no chance I was turning down free alcohol. His drink of choice came from a plastic handle of the world’s cheapest vodka and flat, generic lemon lime soda. A fresh squeeze of lime juice made it perfect and at least a few steps higher than the Keystone Light I was accustomed to.
He was a veteran and incredibly proud of his time served. If he knew anything, he knew he wanted to be buried in a military cemetery. A few years ago we were going through photos and I found some old letters of his. The letters were from local men he met during the Korean War, they thanked him, mostly for being kind. He remembered those letters, those people, like they were from yesterday. I don’t know how many soldiers had letters from Koreans, thanking them for being kind.
He was kind, happy and so light hearted. My Grandma ran the ship and he graciously followed orders with a smile and perhaps a snide comment here and there. He was frugal beyond belief and handy, a good combo because it meant he still has his grill from the 1900’s and Ziploc bags from 1982. He could fix anything including a skinned knee; all he needed was a little magic medicine. Or Neosporin, but I still call it magic medicine. He combined his love for tennis with the trend of tether ball, rigging up a tennis ball on a string that you had to hit with a paddle and wrap around the pole. I played that game into my college years.
He was bald, even in his wedding photos, so we only knew him as bald. But he had this thick wig, we called his “fancy hair.” He’d wear it to church or other important occasions. Although everyone had to know it was fake. He was a skinny man in his late 60’s who certainly wouldn’t have had a thick head of dark, black hair. It sat on a Styrofoam head in his bathroom until my grandma finally threw it away and I guess he finally realized he didn’t have to look fancy.
In college, I ended up in the emergency room thanks to a kidney infection and an ovarian cyst. He was the first person to show up. He sat in the corner of my room and cried while the nurse put in my IV. I spent the whole time in pain, trying to console him and convince him I was okay. He didn’t speak, he couldn’t bear watching me in pain. Little did he know watching him cry was worse than that IV.
They say you will marry a man like your father. But I like to think I married a man like my Grandpa. He met Kyle before my parents did and even my Grandma told me, “You married a gem. I knew from the first time I met him.” Which has to mean he is like my grandfather, a true gem. I sought out someone who was kind, easy going and willing to let me run the ship. I am grateful that he instilled in me the importance of being a good man, a good husband. I am even more grateful that I was able to find that.
He always greeted me with an enthusiastic, “Hello, dear!” I’d give anything to hear that one last time. He’s still holding on. His body is shutting down, he can’t eat or drink, and he probably weighs less than 90 pounds. We keep saying he is stubborn. But I think he just wants to help, he doesn’t want to be the cause of pain. He wants to make us a sandwich or a cocktail; he doesn’t want to lay there, completely helpless, while we cater to him. He wants us all to know he fought for us; he gave it his all until he just couldn’t anymore.