Wednesday, September 30, 2009

And Then There Were None

If you've been reading here for a while, you know that I had the privilege of growing up with three grandfathers, and that I lost two of those grandfathers in the last few years--Grandpa Homer died about 3 years ago, from lung cancer, and my Grandpa Dub died last summer, mostly of old age. And this morning, I got the call from my mom saying that my Grandpa Gene is being taken off of life support for kidney failure today, and will be with hospice the next few days as he makes his transition.

He would have hated the way I put that, "making his transition." It's too soft, too weak. He preferred to call things the way he saw them. He would say, "He's dying. Well, that's the way things go." He could be a sarcastic, blunt old man. I hear his voice coming out of my own mouth sometimes.

There are other things I know about him too, though. His father was killed by Nazis in Germany when he was a young boy, which shaped him emotionally for a lot of his life. He has also been a stereotypical old world European, proper and a little sour, inflexible and yet social. Clearly valued boys more than girls, though I think he loved me anyway. Or was at least proud.

He volunteered his ass off after retirement, working at the VA hospital and for the Shriners, and lots of other things, too. I got the feeling he was deeply compassionate, and maybe wanted to be a different man than he ended up being. He was a colonel in the army. He went to the same college I did, and my grandmother wrote some of his papers for him, though not as many as she'd like you to believe.

Despite his brusqueness and rough exterior, he could be easily offended or wounded. If you sat down to talk with him, which I didn't often enough, he had questions for you and wanted to know more about you. I saw a different side of him then, and he was always different, more likeable, when my grandmother was not around. Maybe our relationship would have been different had my grandmother not claimed me as her own so early on, and had I reached out to him more. But no matter, now.

He saw the world in black and white. He ate a ham and cheese sandwich on rye for lunch everyday of his life. He loved watching soccer on t.v. He walked around in shorts and a bathrobe and floppy slippers, his chest hair whorling around every which way on his chest, which drove my grandmother crazy. He liked his riding lawnmower. He hated waste, and frequently scolded me for using too much water when washing dishes. He and my grandmother fought viciously my entire life. He loved his son, fiercely, and I think also loved my mother, his step-daughter, deeply, though in a different way.

He and my grandmother provided me with lots of financial support and special opportunities, all along the way of my growing up, and for that I feel immense gratitude.

He never got to know my girls, and maybe wouldn't have even if we had been around. Again, too late to know. And no sense in rewriting the past.

That's it. That's about all I know.

Soon, no grandfathers. I am already speaking of him in the past tense. And am feeling unexpectedly sad. But maybe I can imagine the three of them, my grandfathers, flying around in the ether, making friends in the absence of the strong, trouble-making personalities that are my grandmothers, who are thankfully still here on earth. If things had been different, perhaps those old men would have shared a brandy together, or played cards or worked in their gardens with one another, and would have found some common ground.

As long as I'm rewriting the past, why not?


  1. Unexpectedly sad. You nailed it. I spent some time with on Wednesday and he looked comfortable and was able to chat a little. Even gave me a hug - not very Gene-like but touching. It looks like I will have one grandparent at my wedding reception - guess who? -JB

  2. ...and let them all raise their brandy glasses, together, and toast you, the granddaughter with the emotional capacity to make such clear and beautiful revisions.