It was his birthday.
I was about four years old, and a very short kid…and he was TALL.
I remember standing by as he put our coats in the closet. I leaned my head way back to stare up, up, up at him and asked, “How tall are you?” With his sparkling eyes and laugh he informed me that he was over 6′. My eyes grew wide, and all I could say was, “But you’re so close to the ceiling! If you have ANY more birthdays you’ll go right through!”
His chair sat by the front door and the minute he sat the race was on – who would get the privilege of sitting on his lap, carrying on as deep a conversation as a child was capable of? Who would get to play with his round pot belly, and listen to his laughter?
He worked for GM and he was proud of it, and so were we.
When I close my eyes I can still smell his pipe and see the pipe carousel on his dresser. I can smell the cigarettes that he and grandma smoked.
I remember that after he retired he would watch soap operas during lunch.
And I remember the weddings – when my cousin and I would trade off and share him for the dance. “Grampa” by the Judds.
I remember his smile.
I remember his belly.
I remember the strength that he always carried in his soul and body.
I remember the pain that shot through my heart at the word…”cancer”. Once it was uttered it was less than a year. 10 months.
I remember the first time I saw him in the hospital-and how I had to run from the room because it made me physically ill to see my big strong grandfather lying in a bed weak and hooked up to tubes.
I remember his fight.
I remember when it was acknowledged in our hearts that the time to fight was over.
I remember how he held on – hours past when we thought we would lose him – because he would not let go until he’d gotten to hear the good-bye of all of his grandchildren, and my brother had been in surgery for a shattered wrist around the world in Japan. Half an hour after the final phone call, Grampa was gone.
I remember the sound of the tennis balls scattering across the hallway when my professor’s assistant walked up asking if she knew where I was…and all I could do was run to my car to get home as soon as I could.
From there it’s a blur…a long car ride from NC to NY. The arrangements. The funeral home. The droves of people I didn’t know, but who all knew him, overflowing the room.
The pain has lessened, resorted to a memory. For the most part I remember the love, the good things, the joy. But on this day every year the pain comes back to the forefront.
The pain seems so much stronger now that Grandma has gone to join him.
Refreshed and renewed now, they are together forever, but they will always be here in our hearts.
We love you still, and will always love you, Grampa.