It’s been one year. One year since I had a gut feeling to go see my grandpa. One year since I got that awful text from my mom. One year since I had to tell my kids. One year since I laid awake in our camper thinking about a life without him here. One year since I wrote this. And today, one year later, everything I wrote still applies. One year feels so short, yet 365 days feels so long. But in those last 365, I’ve smiled at every estate sale and definitely had my fair share of cake. A year ago, my grandpa died.
I consider myself so lucky.
For almost 33 years, I called this man grandpa.
And what a grandpa he was. He wasn’t the kind who wore his pants up to his arm pits and gave us raisins. No, no. He was the kind of grandpa who literally built his own house; the kind who packed up all his grandkids in the RV and took us all to Sea World; the kind who pushed us around the dance floor at our weddings (certainly out pacing us); the kind who was, just a few weekends ago, watching “The Little Mermaid” with my kids when he leaned over to my grandma and asked, “So if he kisses her, she gets her voice back?”
And while some may have known deep down this was coming, it was still hard to imagine such a live wire ever doused. In fact, I visited him Wednesday in the hospital. It was the first time since his bypass 13 years ago that I had seen him vulnerable. But he was still my grandpa—still himself.
A nurse was puttering in the hospital room adding ice to his chicken broth. He said “that’s good. You go do what you have to do because I want to hug my granddaughter.”
Yup, still grandpa.
He was the kind of grandpa who served in the Air Force, hitchhiked from Tennessee to Michigan (although he always denied it) and he the kind of grandpa who raised four boys—so he took no nonsense.
My dad, the second in line, says he was tough on them. He made them do all their own car repairs, he made them earn their money and he made them who they are today. Men, who, just like my grandpa, aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty, clean up well and have really big hearts.
He taught them a lot growing up and in turn me as well.
Things I learned from my grandpa:
You can be friends with your parents
A little hard work doesn’t kill anyone
There are no snakes in Hawaii. Well, at least that’s what my great-grandpa told him. I’m not entirely sure if it’s true.
And finally, every meal deserves dessert. In fact just skip the meal and go straight for the chocolate.
I also learned how to use a log splitter, the intricacies of righting a wall that was collapsing inward and how to operate a jigsaw.
And I learned a lot about love from him. Not just the way he loved me, but the way he loved my grandma.
When they started dancing together, I figured it was just his way of appeasing this thing she wanted to do. I thought there was no way my hard-working, dirty-hands, greasy-clothes grandpa was going to put on a sparkly shirt and go out there and dance. But he did. He was out there twirling her around every chance he got. I think he enjoyed it more than she did.
When she wanted to go to Hawaii, he took her.
When she wanted to paint a random church in Florida, he obliged.
When she cooked, he did the dishes. And he took that very seriously. He didn’t want anyone screwing up the way he loaded the dishwasher.
When she wanted a China cabinet in their kitchen and it didn’t fit, well, he moved the wall.
There are so many things that made him grandpa.
One of my favorite memories, besides “The Little Mermaid” movie, was using Skype to video chat with them in Florida. Imagine what that was like for him. He grew up on a plateau in middle Tennessee, living across the street from a one-room school house where his aunt taught.
There were not cell phones, no TV, no cable, no iPads. And here we come, a live, talking picture right out of the computer! Mimi and I were chatting and I see this little head sort of creep into the background. He peered around her, coffee cup in hand, and looked. I waved. My kids yelled HI GRANDPA! He can see me. He can hear me. Then he leans over to my Grandma and says “Tell her about our trip to the flea market the other day….”
He’d do this through many Skype conversations to come, too. I’m not sure if he thought I couldn’t see him or if he really just wanted her to tell the story, but I laughed every time.
That’s my grandpa.
I could sit here all day and tell you about the time he took me and my daughters on a golf cart ride around his complex in Florida, or our many trips to Big Boy, how much it meant when they invited us over for dinner, and how I still think about the battery-operated hula doll they brought back from Hawaii for me.
See how lucky I was? I got to call him grandpa.
His memory will live on in all of you and in us. So, to honor my grandpa, begin every morning with a cup of coffee or a pot, whatever suits you; learn how to seek out the best garage sale, estate sales, barn sales and random camper on the side of the road sales—you never know what you might find; spend a little money now and then; and never, ever, ever pass up a piece of cake.