I know we get these threads often around here. I admit that I’ve avoided my fair share of them; sometimes because I didn’t want to be depressed and sometimes because, well let’s face it, everybody’s grandpa dies.
I’ve resisted starting a thread about him since he got sick because I know that I’m simply not capable of doing him justice with words. I lack the written communication skills to tell you how special this man is and how much he means to me.
My grandpa is the most able man I’ve ever known. He is a physical, mental, and emotional powerhouse. He was never a bodybuilder, in fact he never lifted a weight that I know of, but he was an incredibly hard worker and had the muscles to prove it. Right up until a year ago he could still rip a Los Angeles phonebook in half. Two months ago while I was visiting him the man beat me in a footrace uphill, and let me assure you that I’m no slow-poke and I was giving it everything I had.
He wasn’t a well educated man. He dropped out of school the first day of 9th grade because all the kids made fun of his shoes. He had seven sisters, all raised by a single mother, and they were so poor that he didn’t have any shoes, so his mom made him a pair out of an old tire innertube.
Still, he was very naturally intelligent and quick-witted. He worked very hard as a fence builder and was the best at what he did. He even built a fence for Doris Day at her house once and spent lots of time chatting it up with her. My grandmother was there with her kids one of the days he was working on it and she commented “You know, you look a lot like Doris Day,” to which Ms. Day replied, “Well that’s because I am!” They both say she was very pleasant.
Of course fence builders can’t build fences forever and my grandfather eventually used his natural intelligence and charisma to get a very good suit-and-tie job and retired lacking nothing.
I grew up on opposite coasts as my grandfather (opposite from all of both sides of my family actually.) I was born in Atlanta; he lived in LA. I grew up in North Carolina; he still lived in LA. Now that I live in Phoenix and he lives in Sacramento it’s the closest we’ve ever been to each other but it’s still a 13 hour drive or a $200 flight. Not exactly right around the corner.
Despite this, and thanks to my dad working for an airline, we both flew for free and became very close from the day I was born. He would come to my place and we would walk around the woods, marking the trees for sweetgum and whittling whistles out of twigs. I would go to his place and we would walk around the swap meet, picking up old anniversary clocks and taking them home to fix.
We always had a special relationship; I’m sure that he’s where I got my sense of humor and my thick skin from. And he loved having someone around that he could bop on the head and thump in the adam’s apple and play funny little pranks on and know that he didn’t mean anything bad by it.
Boy I remember how I used to cry when I would have to come home from his house. I’d stumble down the jetway with my head cocked halfway around, waving goodbye and crying, then get on the plane and cry some more when I could no longer see him through the window. He’d just laugh and laugh, and I never thought for a second that he was laughing at me. That was just the way he expressed himself. I’d get home and cry some more and beg my mom to go back. My brother used to tease me when we were kids, “grandpa’s not going to live forever you know.”
I met his grandpa, my great-great-grandpa. Met him twice in fact, he lived to be 104. I always figured that if he could live to be a grandpa and still have a grandpa then why couldn’t I?
Last August, just shy of his 68th birthday, he found out he had brain cancer. A “glioblastoma” I think it’s called. The worst kind as far as I know. I went as soon as I found out and spent a couple days with him. Then I went again at Thanksgiving and again two months ago, in May. In June I got to see him at our yearly family reunion. He had gained quite a bit a weight and looked oddly pudgy because he’s on prednisone, but other than that he still seemed fine. He just says he’s tired all the time. He says he “looses his energy” too fast.
For my birthday, on 7/7, my girlfriend bought me a plane ticket to go see him August 18th-22nd. I just talked to my dad who was leaving his house though and he said he doesn’t think he’ll be there :(.
Here are a few of the last pictures I have of him, from the family reunion in June:
This is me, him, and my girlfriend. He always takes his hat off for pictures because he thinks his bald head is funny. See, no one in my family is bald. Never has been. Remember my 104 year old great-great-grandfather that I told you about up there? He died with a full head of hair. They told my grandpa that his treatment would leave him without any hair on his entire body but only the hair on the very spot where they shot the radiation fell out. He can actually grow his hair back now if he wants but he’s gotten used to the bald head and he likes it. He calls himself “Baldylocks.”
This is him by himself. That’s my mom on the left side of the screen laughing like a damn fool, by the way :).
This is the last shot of us hugging goodbye. That’s my brother on the right. I wish there were more pictures of this but I got mad because I thought my sister was trying to take pictures of me crying so I took the camera away from her. I guess emotions were just flaring too high at the moment.
None of this does one iota of justice to what an amazing, charismatic, powerful, loved, and loving man my grandfather is, but I feel good having typed it.
Here’s hoping my wonderful girlfriend didn’t buy that plane ticket in vain.