My granddad died on March 27th…one day before his 87th birthday. The emotional roller coaster that I’ve been riding for the past month and a half is almost unbearable. I’ve gone from the incredible joy of the birth of a new baby, to the grief that can only be felt when you lose someone you love dearly. I loved my granddad dearly. He was a great man, who’s joy for the simple things in life was infectious. He left behind a wife, two sons, three grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. Granddad touched countless lives. We knew the end was coming for a little over a year, and for him, I’m sure death was a great release. I know he hurt so badly, and that is over for him now. For that I am grateful.
I have so many fond memories of Granddad. He helped to raise me. I spent countless hours with him and my grandmother growing up. They only lived a couple of miles away. Granddad and I would go down into the creek behind their house. We spent hours exploring up and down that creek. We would find interesting “artifacts” in the mud and silt. He would tell all kinds of stories. During our explorations, we would play all kinds of pretend games. One of our favorites was for me to pretend to be a teenage girl, and Granddad would pretend to be my little brother. He would get into all sorts of mischief in our games. It was my job to keep him out of trouble!
The big sister/little brother game was a common one with us. We didn’t just play it while exploring the creek. We would also play on our long bike rides. Granddad would ride bikes with me farther than anyone else. He would take me clear up to the main road. He would ride with me down to the elementary school a couple of miles away, so that I could play on the playground (and he could take a rest). Every once in a while, he would stop to point out something interesting that he had seen while we were riding.
Granddad was a master storyteller. He had a way of telling stories that made you feel like you were really there. He could tell a funny story about the trouble he and his brother got into while they were growing up, and by the time he got done, it was as if you had been there too, right along with them. I can still remember the suspense and fear I felt when he told me a story about the time his brother dared him to stick his tongue to a frozen train track during a Missouri winter. They didn’t believe a tongue would actually stick to the metal. So, Granddad’s brother dared Granddad to try it. As it turns out, tongues do stick to frozen train tracks. And then they heard the train whistle. The way Granddad told the story, I’m sure he managed to peel his tongue off the track mere seconds before the train came speeding along the track, with my granddad and his brother barely escaping certain death…or at least tongue amputation.
I can still remember, as a small child, when I would ride anywhere in a car with Granddad, he would tell me stories about the road lice. Now, you may not know it, but nearly all roads have road lice. You can tell, because of all the little bumps. Most people think they are there to separate the different lanes of traffic. But Granddad knew the truth. Those bumps in between the lanes were actually road louse houses. He would have me staring at those little bumps throughout the entirety of a long road trip, desperately trying to spot a road louse. Of course, I didn’t know what they looked like…and according to Granddad, they were very shy creatures. After all, wouldn’t you be scared to come out of your house if cars ran over it all the time? I sure wish I had his talent for keeping kids entertained in the car! With five kids of my own now, that kind of talent would really come in handy!
Along with his talent for storytelling, Granddad had another great talent. My granddad could whistle. It wasn’t just any whistle. He had his own very special whistle. I could tell his whistle apart from anyone else’s. It had a very unique sound. Granddad was always whistling. He whistled any tune that came into his head. But, I most often remember hearing him whistle The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Not a song you’d typically hear whistled! Now, every once in a while, he would sing it…rather badly! His rendition was very loud, and always overly dramatic. He enjoyed my pained reaction. But, the sound of his whistle is something I will never forget.
Granddad also had a couple of great culinary passions: popcorn, and ice cream floats. He had a special pan that he used to cook popcorn on the stove. The bottom of it looked like a typical sauce pan. But, the top had a lid that attached to the handle. On the end of the handle was a crank that turned a mechanism in the bottom of the pan that kept the kernels moving. It looked a lot like this one. I thought it was so awesome when he made popcorn. He would let me pour the popcorn into the pan, AND turn the handle while it popped! My mom never let me play at the stove…but Granddad did. Of course, he was standing with me the whole time making sure I wouldn’t burn myself. Now, the ice cream float went perfectly with a popcorn snack. Granddad liked root beer in his. But I was never a fan of root beer. So, he would make a Coke float for me. The ice cream had to be Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla. We were in Texas, after all!
When I got a little bit older, Grandmother and Granddad took me with them on a number of vacations. I spent weeks every summer, travelling to some exotic location. They took me on a road trip to Washington D.C. (Remember the road louse houses? He even managed to get a teenage me to search for them!). We went to England, three different times. I even joined them for one week out of their three week 50th anniversary trip to Hawaii. They probably would have asked me to join them for all three weeks, but the first two weeks were during dead week and finals during my first semester of my junior year in college.
Driving in England with Granddad was always an adventure. Of course, to us Americans, the British drive on the wrong side of the road! On our first trip to England, on the very first day, we were driving from Gatwick airport to our first temporary residence. We were all tired and jet lagged. Granddad started veering off the road, and knocked the headlight and side mirror off our rental car. That woke us up! Then, after we got off the M road (I can’t remember which number it was), Granddad went to turn on our next road, and of course, turned onto the wrong side of the road! More excitement! He finally got it figured out around the time we were about to leave to come back to the US after 3 weeks each time. But, we always had fun. We stayed lost a lot, since Grandmother was the navigator…but that’s a story for another day!
I could tell a million more stories about my granddad. But, I’ll save some for another time. I have many, many happy memories of this man. He will certainly be missed. I am sad. But, I also know that I have hope. Hope because we will meet again…free from pain, and free from the confusion and haze of dementia. So, until that time, I will have to be content to remember. I will remember all the time I had to spend with him. I will remember how blessed I have been to have had my granddad in my life.