I was blessed with a grandfather who loved me more than even fairytales could imagine. No matter what. Always. Period. He was also proud of me – well, maybe not every single second – but he never let me know any different. I hope everyone is loved like my grandfather loved me. (I am very fortunate to be loved very much by some fabulous people – in time, I am sure you will hear about all of them – but today is just for Grandpa “Chuck”.)
When he died, I was somewhat caught up in my own life – number one hubby and I had a one-year old little bear. I was working part-time and I lived 747 miles away from him. He called me the night he died. I had sent him flowers that day and he wanted to thank me.
I was tired and in bed, so I let the machine get the phone. He left me a beautiful message about how special the flowers were and how all the women at the nursing home wanted to know who their competition was. He laughed and said good night. Then he died during the night.
It’s hard to say if I regret not picking up the phone. Of course, if I had known….. But I did not. So I was left with his voice on tape. And I played it over and over many, many times. So, who is to say. He knows I loved him. He got the flowers. And I got his voice on tape. But yes, I would have taken the opportunity to tell him how special he was – had I known.
I drove down to Georgia to help with the funeral and clean out his room. As I sat down to write his eulogy, I knew I would not be able to be the one who would read it out loud. So we asked a family friend to share my stories.
My grandfather had moved down south so my mother could be nearby to help him. He lost touch with many of his friends from New York – sadly many of them had died. As such, his funeral was mostly attended by my mother’s friends – in support of her. So it was very important to me to let them know why he was worth the time they took out of their own busy lives. I knew he needed to be remembered and in some ways introduced to the people attending his service – his memories needed to be captured.
Desperately, I wanted them to know why my grandfather was worth mourning. That he made at least one life a lot richer just by being a part of it – mine.
I started my tribute to him by writing that my very first thought when I heard he had died was to gather up all my memories of him and put them in a basket. My heart did not feel big enough to hold every laugh and every tear and every smile. But that was foolish. Me trying to be clever with my words. There is absolutely no way I could forget him or the special things he did for me. Even 10 plus years later, I can still hear his laugh and taste his fried potatoes. I can feel the warmth of his hug.
He would fill my fridge with fresh fruit and diet Pepsi (he could never remember I drank diet Coke – during his visits, I drank diet Pepsi). To this day, I cannot eat a green grape without thinking of him. He would always buy me a poppie from the VFW volunteers and I would hang it on the rear view mirror in my car. He loved to sit in the bar for an hour before eating dinner at a restaurant. He would always order an apricot sour for me. I was not 21 and I did not like the taste one bit. But I would sit and sip and watch him flirt with the waitresses 50 years younger than him. He was charming. Sometimes he would steal the steak knife from the restaurant if it was a really good one. He’d wrap it in the cloth napkin. He stole the napkin too. Sometimes he would embarrass me.
He would scour the weekly ads for the best deal on mayonnaise and other groceries. Then he would go to three different stores and stock up on the sale items. With his big old heart in tact, he would give away half of what he bought to neighbors and friends. I tried to no avail to explain the concept of saving money to him – that if you buy things on sale and then give most of it away – there aren’t many pennies left in your pocket – clearly pennies were not the point. He was not foolish with money – but sometimes his heart won out over his bottom line.
He always found the perfect gift for me – usually because he always asked me what I wanted. When I was in elementary school, he used to let me sit on his lap when I got out of the swimming pool, even though I was soaking wet and he was in his street clothes. He bought me a car when I turned 18. He called just to see how I was doing. We used to drive down to Georgia together and he would always pack his lunch. A sandwich and a beer. He was never really in a hurry. He could just sit and enjoy. He always waited until 4pm to have a cocktail and he always took the phone of the hook during his dinner. He was a very good cook – even when he was a little heavy on the pepper. He bought me my first iron skillet and I was mortified when he told me to never use soap on it. But it turns out he was right.
After Bear was born, my mother bought him a Dr. Suess book as a gift from my grandfather. She had my grandpa sign it. He signed it “With Love, Grandpa Chuck.” It was a sad day for me because we never called him Grandpa Chuck. It was his handwriting for sure, but it was not his signature. I guess that day I realized that Bear would never get to know my grandfather. My very special grandfather was slipping away little by little. That was a heartbreaking realization. My children have their own spectacular grandparents – and for that I am so grateful.
So, I treasure the fact that my children have grown up with so much family nearby. It has given them many soft places to fall. And now, we are oceans away from dinners at IHOP and sleepovers and homemade cookies and art projects and reading books and all the other gifts their grandparents are giving them. And I do not even have an answering machine. It is so hard to be away.