Sunday, November 8, 2009

My Grampa

November is such a bittersweet month for me each year.

Generally speaking, on the one hand, it marks the end of the comparatively warm, bright days of early fall and sets the stage for the onslaught of the long, cold, snowy, miserable winter, which I find utterly depressing. On the other hand, it marks the beginning of the Christmas holiday season, which - despite the cold and snow - is my favorite holiday of all.

On a more personal level, my Grampa H. - my father's father, with whom I was very close - was born on November 1st, making that day one of celebration every year. Unfortunately, he died on November 20th, back in 1998 after a short but devastating illness, making that a day of mourning and somber remembrance ever since.

I was with him when he died, in a hospital room, in the middle of a cold and snowy night, with my dad and stepmom beside me. It was an unforgettable moment, one of few such moments in life, and I was transformed by it. Completely and utterly transformed.

My Grampa was the sweetest man to ever walk the earth. He was tall but not imposing, sweet but not a pushover. He had a voice that was deep, rich with texture, and an infectious laugh that was part chuckle and part giggle. He always had a twinkle in his eyes, and he would fascinate and amaze my older sister and younger brother and I as children by wiggling his ears. While he could at times be stern and raise his voice, he was also the sort of grandfather who would happily play with us grandkids as children, and he took endless delight in watching us grow.

He loved the circus, baseball (the Brewers were his favorite), the Beer Barrel Polka, playing pool and cards, and us grandkids.

My father was an only child; as such, we were the only grandchildren. After my parents' divorce, when us kids moved with our mom to a town six hours away, we saw my grandparents only a few times a year for the rest of our childhood. My grandmother died a year after we moved away, but my grandfather lived for many years beyond. I was 24 when he died; he had lived to just past his 82nd birthday.

I, like most kids, took my grandfather for granted when I was growing up. He was so good and kind and sweet to us, but he was just "Grampa" for many years. It wasn't until I was in high school that I realized how truly blessed and lucky I was to still have him in my life. He had lived through so much that I couldn't even begin to fathom, and his life had been more complex and had contained more heartache than I ever realized until I took the time to really get to know my Grampa.

We became pen-pals toward the end of my high school years, and that continued until he passed away. We would write letters to each other every few weeks, and his always came ensconced in a sweet card of one sort or another. I'd write about my boyfriends, about my general activities, about school, and eventually about work. He'd write me about his weekly pool (billiards) group, about how all the women in his retirement apartment community were after him - one woman in particular kept leaving her "unmentionables" in the dryer when she knew my grampa was doing his laundry. And he'd also write about his health, which right up to the end had been quite good, all things considered.

He always had the right words to cheer me up or the right advice to help me make a tough decision, and no matter what, I knew that he was always in my corner. His letters were written with such love and in such detail that I could hear his voice in my head as I read each of his letters. I think that as long as I live I will never forget the sound of his voice. It was - and remains - always a comfort to me. In fact, there is a priest at the new church we've been attending for the past few months whose voice and patterns of speech remind me so much of my Grampa that I often find myself closing my eyes and smiling at the sound of it, and I've remarked to my husband a few times how much Father Larry reminds me of my Grampa.

One of the sweetest things my Grampa did had to do with my business cards. When I got my first job out of college, as an executive secretary, he had my business card laminated and he would show it to all of his friends and tell them that his granddaughter was "an executive." He was so proud!

One of the toughest things about losing my Grampa when I did was that he never met Super Man, or Super Girl, or - especially - Super Boy. He would've loved them all, and he would've loved to see me happily married with a family of my own. One of the things that drew me so to Super Man was his sweet, humble nature; it was a quality that my Grampa had, too, in spades. He didn't always approve of the guys I dated, but I think he would've loved my husband.

We had started dating several months prior to my Grampa passing away, but we weren't yet serious enough that I would bring Super Man "home" with me to meet him. I regret that often. Then again, the timing wasn't right for it then, and I had no way of knowing that my Grampa would die so soon.

When I was pregnant with Super Boy, once we found out at the ultrasound that he was a boy, I told Super Man that - no matter what - his middle name had to be my grandfather's name. As it turned out, the name we chose as Super Boy's first name - Super Man's paternal grandfather's name - ended up fitting perfectly with my grandfather's name. Super Boy knows who he was named after, and why. He likes that his names are special, that they are of his family.

And once Super Boy's personality started to show, I had the oddest feeling that my child, who is and has always been so indescribably perfect and in sync with me, was hand-picked in heaven by my Grampa. While they may not have met on this side of life, I believe with all my heart that they met on the other side. Super Boy has so much of my Grampa in his personality, as well, and it charms and enchants me to no end.

Fortunately, it is not only my son who shares many of my Grampa's traits: my younger brother looks exactly like my Grampa did as a young man, and my brother is also one of the sweetest people ever to walk the earth. I'm so glad that the best parts of a great man still live on in our family today. It comforts my soul.

I miss you much, Grampa. I think of you often, I see you and hear you often, and I know that you are my and my family's guardian angel, always.

With all my love,
SW

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