Dear Grandfather

After my maternal grandmother passed away, I wrote this post almost immediately. So naturally, it was more viscerally emotional, as I was brushing away tears while typing.

I had a very different relationship with both of them. When I went next door to visit after school or on the weekends, Grandmother would get down on the floor with me to play Rummy or Uno. She taught me to shuffle playing cards by spreading them out on the floor and moving my hand in a circular motion on top of them, then collecting them back from the pile and having to get them back into the right position to be dealt. She would let me run around upstairs, going from the spare bedroom where’d I play on their stationary bike, through her bedroom to the attic stairs, where an unending supply of pennies in an enormous tin was waiting to be counted (thanks Amy for the reminder about this). When I got bored with that, I would wander up into the attic to explore hidden treasures until she called me back down. Before I returned home, she would give me a hug and say, “thanks for visiting.”

When Grandfather was home, he would almost always be found sitting in his chair in the corner of their living room, doing a crossword puzzle from that day’s newspaper or reading. If I stayed late enough or came after dinner, sometimes we’d watch Jeopardy. The other times I went to visit was to borrow one of his encyclopedias for a school project. He never asked what the project was about, but always let me spend as much time as I needed looking through his personal library.

The other place we would spend time together was in the basement of my parent’s house, where he had a small space set up for his workshop. I was always fascinated by his tools and would sneak down there by myself just to look around. I knew never to touch anything when he wasn’t there (except an occasional screwdriver when I was feeling brave). Sometimes there were projects in various stages of completion on his workbench, so I would inspect them to admire his handiwork. Other times I’d see drawings or just some tools laid out in preparation for his next project, which was always something someone in the family needed. But my favorite memories were when we worked on something together. Again, he didn’t say much but gave instructions when needed.

Once, I had to build a derby car to race against other boys at my church. He helped me build an awesome car, then I decided to paint it green and put puffy Eagles stickers all over it. Inevitably, the stickers created so much drag on the car that it couldn’t even make it to the finish line. I remember being upset that he hadn’t told me what would happen or keep me from putting the stickers on the car. But when I got older, I realized he wasn’t concerned with the outcome of the race. He enjoyed helping me do what I wanted and encouraged me even when my erroneous decisions drove me to certain failure. He understood the importance of letting me make my own mistakes, and not to fear them but to learn from those experiences.

When he was well into his eighties, he helped me put in new flooring in our house. Even though he couldn’t get down on his knees as easily or remember exactly all the steps in the process, we were able to figure it out and get everything done. During this time, he gave me a few of his tools by simply leaving them there and saying he had no need for them anymore.

When I got into writing and recording music in my teenage years, I knew he didn’t approve of the type of music I was playing. He never told me that himself; it was always second-hand information. Someone would say, “Grandfather doesn’t like drums” or “He doesn’t approve of dancing.” But he and Grandmother always came to my school concerts and sporting events, as well as similar events for all of my cousins. I always felt special knowing I had more than just my parents and siblings in the audience like most of the other kids.

Even though he was very traditional, he wasn’t afraid to try new things. I remember him asking me one day to accompany him to Best Buy and pick out a computer. He gave me the advice, “buy the best you can afford once and you’ll save money in the long run. And you’ll have better equipment.” He was eager to learn how to use his email and eventually we even helped him set up a Facebook account.

I see a lot of myself in him. People said he was quiet and I always wondered if he was deep in thought, and what or who he was thinking about. Or maybe he was sitting in peace, totally relaxed, simply enjoying his life.

Looking back, I wish I had asked him more questions. I wish I had gotten to know him better. I wish I had learned more from him. I wish I felt closer to him at times when I was younger, and again when he was much older.

But I know he was satisfied with his life and proud of his family he cherished so much. Perhaps my favorite memory of him is when we went to my youngest sister’s college graduation out of town. We all stayed at a bed and breakfast the night before, so we ate breakfast together with a few other families who were there for the same purpose the next morning. A man asked Grandfather about his family, and he told them how many children and grandchildren he had, and how most of them still lived close by and visited him often. The other man responded, “Wow, you are a very lucky man!” I looked over at Grandfather as he said, “Yes, I am” and could see how proud he was in that moment.