Friday, January 06, 2006


i first met grampy almost 18 years ago, when he was still quite hearty and hale, but just as it's hard to remember your kids at a different age and stage, i can't really remember him then. well, a little bit, maybe. but really, the first clear images i have of him, he was already wearing cowboy boots at all times to keep his foot from dropping, and soon we were talking about how he really shouldn't be driving any more, although he did for many more years. even after his foot slipped and he drove his big, baby blue buick through the garage door, through the brick back wall of the garage, and into a tree, he kept driving. that very car, in fact, even though it was officially totaled, because he was offended by the amount the scrap yard guy offered him. the tires alone are worth more than that, he grumbled, and for the next year we would find him in his wheel chair, pulled up to the open hood, tinkering. he was a fine mechanic (having dropped out of school after the 6th grade, he went on to make a fortune with his own trucking business), and the car is still sitting in the garage today, in perfect working order.

just like his car, grampy should have been dead long ago; anyone else would have been. he stayed alive through sheer stubborn force of will. when he died, early in the morning on the day after christmas, it was because he decided to. he was in the hospital, and having refused a feeding tube, told his youngest daughter, julie's mom, that he was ready to go home. you mean back to the house? she asked, but he shook his head and said, no, home. he said the 23rd psalm, reminisced about the boys he had taught in his sunday school class years ago, and talked about whom he might see when he got home. ellie said, julie and marta and the kids are coming in a couple of days, maybe you'd like to wait until they get here. why should i wait? he asked, and indeed, why? he could have been no more sure of julie's devotion to him, no more secure in the bond he shared with his great grandchildren, no more comforted than he had already been through the regular visits to his home, and more recently to his hospital bedside, to which micah knew the way by heart, exploding out of the elevator, down the hall, through the swinging doors, to his grampy in the first room on the left.

grampy died the way he lived, with dignity, fully aware, and completely in control to the very end. at 92, his body just gave up, though his mind was still sharp as a tack. it was a death we can all hope for. his funeral was as joyful an event as a pennsylvania dutch funeral can be. "the best funeral ever" was bandied about by folks old enough to have attended their share. his granddaughters eulogized him beautifully, and i trust the irony of their tribute to grampy's open and accepting nature was not lost on the homophobic minister at shepherd of the hills. (i am ashamed to admit that i took some satisfaction when said minister's praise-song hand waving was upstaged by the beautiful rendition of "i'll fly away" sung simply and beautifully by julie, her sister, her sister's partner and trixie. and i'd even allow as how it was a bit unchristian of me to be enjoying the moment quite so much, except that grampy, too, would have been rolling his eyes at the hand-waving; and while he was a pretty straight-forward guy from an era when irony had much less cache, he too would have appreciated the irony.) yes, grampy's was a death to be celebrated, not mourned.

and yet i do mourn. not for grampy's passing, because that was, as they say, a blessing. but i do mourn for so much that having grampy in our lives meant. the beautiful quiet landscape of his gentleman's farm an hour outside the city where we would rake leaves in the fall, sled in the winter, sip sodas and rock on the front porch in the spring and summer. the long afternoons when micah and julie mowed the lawn on the riding mower, and trixie rode her bike up and down the lane. the way grampy called trixie "miss philly" and the way his eyes would light up as he watched "henry" -- the middle name he and micah shared -- play with antique clay marbles on the living room carpet. i will miss the way his house smells comfortingly of days gone by; i will miss eating fried clams and succotash at hickory park; i will miss sneaking ruffled potato chips and real coke when everyone else has gone to bed. i will miss the window into julie's childhood, the house almost exactly the same as when she was a babe. most of all, i will always regret that micah won't remember grampy or his place.

grampy was buried on a lovely hillside next to his wife florence, who died a few months after trixie was born. one of ten children, he is survived by just one sister, as well as two daughters and their husbands, two granddaughters and their partners, and a great granddaughter and great grandson.


At January 08, 2006 11:54 AM, Blogger Elizabeth said...

What a beautiful memorial to Grampy. He seems like quite a guy.

Your hand-waving thoughts are pretty apt--I can't stand presumptious, superficial worship, either. Just something real, please.

I found you through Katie Allison Granju's blog and have been enjoying your thoughts.


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