JUST A SMALL PART OF THE WHOLE
My grandpa has died.
I am sick about it. I keep thinking this hasn’t really happened. My thoughts go as follows, like a robot: This is me driving my car to my mom’s. This is me walking down the hallway. This is me trying to console someone over a loss I cannot fathom. I cannot say a word. I will just hold her. I will let her talk. I hope it is enough. This is me going through the motions of my Grandpa’s death. This is me empty.
I hate losing those I love. It hurts so bad that I’d gladly have my legs broken, my arms, my back, my neck, before my heart. The ache only fades with the passing of time. Too much time. It’s happened enough that I’m quite good at it by now. Knowing what has to be done in order to move forward. Doesn’t hurt any less, though. Wish it did. It was just his birthday. It was just Christmas Eve. Our times together at family gatherings, will never be the same. Grandpa was magic. He was the spice in our time together. He always had a joke going. And not those passe, little-old-man jokes that one feels obligated to politely laugh at. No! The wry, quick-witted jokes and the laugh-out-loud-belly-laugh-kinda jokes. There are no words I can write to capture him on the page … that will do him justice. No words to neatly sum him up in a convenient and thoughtful paragraph. He was much too big for that. Still, I will try. I will rattle on until I can’t any longer. I will miss the best conversations. The best stories. The best laugh. So smart. And no jokes about broccoli on my birthday this year …
My mom shared this little story with me. Apparently, my grandma had a small tree out in the front yard that she absolutely loved. Grandpa discovered that the tree was dying. So did my grandma. She began to pray for the tree to live. Grandpa could see that, that wasn’t gonna happen. So, he spray painted the tree. Green on the leaves. Brown on the branches. Grandma looked out at the tree from the window anyway, as it was, so she wouldn’t notice. She saw that the tree appeared to have revived itself, come back to life. It was a miracle! She called everyone she knew and praised God for healing her tree. Grandpa never told her. My uncle snuck over one afternoon and photographed the painted tree for black-mail purposes, he jokingly says.
I love gardening! Can’t keep a house plant alive worth a darn, but get me out with the actual earth, and I’m good to go. All because of my grandpa. Used to spend the weekends over at their place out in Spanaway as a kid sometimes. We’d get up at 6 a.m. and I’d accompany him out to his massive garden. I was none too excited the first time. He had lots to share, though. All sorts of interesting facts and knowledge. And he put me to work, too. Having me check on the lettuce, see how the carrots were coming along, lift up the leaves to see if the strawberries were ripe enough yet. One time, he told me about how he found gold in his garden. Yeah, suuuure … he pulled out a nugget from his pocket! Swore up and down he’d dug it up in the garden. I spent a little time digging myself. My cousin Chris, now 27, he spent HOURS and HOURS digging. Haha!
You know, I wanted to take him out driving. It was supposed to be his birthday present. I thought for months on what to get him. He always talked about wanting to drive. But he couldn’t because of being deemed legally blind. I saw no reason for that to stop him, though. I picked out a field along a stretch of road out in the boonies where we were to go after the holidays and we were gonna have at it. I never told him, though. Was just gonna pick him up. He’ll never know what I got him for his birthday now.
My grandpa had all sorts of toys in his room. A kid at heart. The best kind of man- able to take care of adult matters with integrity and follow through, responsibly, but still a big goofball who knows how to laugh and have fun and more importantly, share it. Bean and I have all sorts of toys, figurines, oddities, too. A good family trait, I think. My glove box, my trunk, my laundry shelf, my room, behind a pillow in the living room, fun lurks. Toys. Grandpa …
5 and 10lb bags of unshelled peanuts stacked sometimes shoulder high in two rows inside the pantry. There was a host of critters that literally lined up for my grandpa daily. Squirrels and crows. Sweet, chubby little cherub-like birdies. He had fruit trees galore in the backyard that drew them all and he would stand on the back porch stoop and they would wait in a row, coming up one by one as he doled out the peanuts. He was so cool! A sight to be seen, for sure. I’ve carried peanuts with me everywhere I’ve gone for over a year now because of him. In my purse, in my coat pocket, on the car dash. Last year, at work, Cliff even made these fantastic, hilarious drawings I still have all about Mr. Peanut all stemming from a peanut at my desk in the design team office.
My grandpa knew how to treat people. Never a jerk, always funny. He treated waiters with respect and courtesy. Always won them over with his humor. I was proud to sit with him when we went out.
I love pocket watches because of him. He was a watchmaker and repairman for many, many years. He worked in a little shop in the Tacoma Mall that is no longer there. He was thought so highly of that the owner of the mall asked him to manage the whole place at one time, but my grandpa turned him down. He said that he knew what he could and couldn’t handle and he figured that his temperament wasn’t of the sort that should be unleashed in a position overseeing people. I respect him for acknowledging that about himself. I am always told that when he returned from the war, he was different. That’s the kinda thing I hear often, in movies and books, but have yet to personally experience in anyone, actually see the before and after. I know of the damage his post-war behavior caused to my mother, and to his wife, more so than anyone. He mellowed in the last fifteen years, or so, and we were only left with the good in him. He learned that his behavior was a choice and I was so very proud of him.
Where I felt most safe … I remember when I three. Being held on his knee as he talked to me about the berries in the nearby berry patch. I had on a lavender dress with a little white pinafore and everytime I looked up at his face the sun was in my eyes so I could only see his silhouette. It was so warm out and I just wanted to take that little white pinafore off and go run around in the berry patch. I felt so safe with him there. It’s a moment that stands out as one of those defining ones. That berry patch. Shaded by trees and fenced in with chain-link fencing. There were so many bushes overgrown in there that any adult that went in had to hunch over at about half their height to get anywhere. I loved it! Being three, I was a short one, and could easily run through the maze of bushes, all around to the perimeters of the fencing, and because my grandpa was tall, he was extra slow in getting around so I could run and run, hide and hide, squealing and laughing when he finally did catch me. All along the ground were strawberry bushes and amongst all the bushes were great overgrown blackberry bushes. I still am not a fan of thorns to this day because of that place, the only drawback. Now I love to go pick blackberries along the bike trail down at the Kent Golf Course because it reminds me of when I was three and safe with my grandpa.
It happened now. He is gone NOW. He did not leave before his birthday. Before Christmas even. Or New Year’s. Those times are forever with us. I am so glad of that. My last memory with him was one of a hug and an “I love you” and fittingly so, a joke between us about who was to exit the house first and not slip on the ridiculously wet wood stairs. A joke. I am glad of that.
I collect last moments. I can remember in the past when a relationship has come to an end, I look back at our “lasts” together: the last hug, the last laugh, the last kiss, the last phone call, the last movie … never seems that I know that it was to be the last of anything. No, instead they are often just another moment on a random Tuesday afternoon, one in a long string of them. Well, I can remember all of those lasts for him as well, but my most favorite last was of our time in his garden months back, maybe towards the end of September, when he was showing me around the tomato section which turned into the flower section. A most wonderful of sections! Mums, the flowers were. Gorgeous heads of many, many perfectly curled petals stemming from the center in fuschia and white and yellow and red. He promptly took out his pocket knife and asked if I’d like a bouquet to take home. Yes, please! So, together, we made quite a little team in gathering one of the most memorable arrangements of flowers I’ve ever been lucky enough to own. Grandpa had his sight deteriorate over the last several years so that he could only see peripheral. If he looked at something straight on, say a person, he saw their outline, not their face or their actual body. He had laser surgery in October and I remember not knowing just what to say to encourage him when he shared that he was a bit afraid of the whole thing. Then, he told me that one of grandma’s church lady friends had called the house and had begun talking with him when she found that grandma wasn’t home. He found out that she had just had that surgery herself. And, that she was 92! So, when I heard that, I knew he had to know that if a little, 92 year old, sweetheart-of-a-woman could have this surgery, surely he, at a mere 80 could hack it. So, pre-surgery, cutting those lovely flowers, he’d have me guide him to the blossom and stem and then he’d snip! He was amazing! He could do more “blind” than most can with full sight. He bought a VW Beetle a few years back because he knew of my passion for them and then proceeded to re-upholster the whole interior and paint the exterior a scarlet red (Non-SuperBeetle 1974 Sun Red to be exact). I had stripped one down, re-upholstered and painted one the year before, and in him doing so, too, we had quite a lot to talk about! How cool is that?! To me, very.
Wedding dance. Dancing is a great thing! I don’t care if one looks the fool, or not, it must be done. And my grandpa understood this fact. At my cousin’s wedding last summer, he came up to me and asked me if I’d like to dance. Not my sister. Not my cousin. Not one of his three daughters. Me. I almost said no, for fear of looking the said fool, and then duh! Lightbulb! Who cares?! Bring on the foolery. I had the BEST time. He had absolutely no rhythm. He didn’t lead worth a dime. And he was the best partner I could have asked for. His passion and laughter and determination made it the absolute best. He probably got half that dance floor up and moving their bums. “If he can do it, we can,” I heard time and again. Heck, yeah! I only stopped dancing to take pictures of him dancing.
Writing is the only way to release all of this. I’ve tried talking and the anger comes. I was so surprised to find myself angry. See, it wasn’t pretty. It was an accident. He shouldn’t be gone! Somehow, I felt that if his body gave out, he’d had a heart attack or something, that it was okay. But, no. He was found face down on the floor in his room. After the autopsy, it was found that he’d tripped and fallen, knocked out on impact, asphyxiated in the pile of clothes he fell on. Was planning to wear. It wasn’t supposed to happen! He should still be here! His dad, my great grandpa Leo, lived to 96-years-old.
What I hate more than my pain, is the pain of my family. My uncle Lefty has lost a friend of more than 70 years. 70! I am just a small part of the whole that was him. A husband was lost. A father. A brother. A friend. A soldier. A man.
I love him. This aches.
The hurt will fade, but the missing, the missing will remain.