My Grampa

This is what you’d call a “Stream of Consciesness” post. A memory dump if you will. Please forgive the lack of transition and (many) run on sentences.

Yesterday was my grandfather’s 87th birthday. It’s funny how people stay a certain age in your mind. My grampa will always be 60 to me: going to work at this big-time photo-processing lab (which according to Google, doesn’t exist anymore.) carrying his lunch box that held the lunch his wife lovingly packed for him, coming back from his deer hunting trips and tickling my cheek with his hunter’s stubble, chasing his grandkids around the house and tickling us until we cried(in a good way), making us buckwheat pancake people (and a music note in my case since I was taking piano lessons), making bird houses in his incredibly crowded and sawdust covered workshop—to this day, the smell of sawdust makes me feel happy and warm—and always the man behind the giant camcorder recording all of our childhood memories. I still remember the smell of the new station wagon he bought when I was 8 or 9. I’ve never smelled another new car like it. He spray painted the wings of the two ducks we had to set free so that if we ever saw them again, we’d know they were ours. It took me decades to realize that birds molt and we probably would never see those silver tagged wings, but he knew we didn’t know that at the time.

He started a band about 20 years ago called “The Aluminum Strings”. They play traditional hymnals and Scandinavian and German songs. We used to dance in the diningroom while he practiced his accordion or auto-harp. The band is still performing in churches and nursing homes, though the members have changed through the years. That happens when the median age of a band is 80.

He was in Germany during WWII as an engineer, working on tanks and other war machines. I showed him pictures of our trip to Berlin last year and he said, “It’s looked a little different when I was there.” That’s all I know about his army years. He’s not one to talk about The War.

He took care of my grandmother in the house he bought back in 1957 and lived in their entire marriage and raised two daughters in for as long as he could, probably longer than he should have. He then visited her in the nursing home every day when her Alzheimer’s became too much for him. She smiled whenever he came and he liked to think it was because some part of her remembered who he was. The picture of him standing by her grave while we all gave him some time alone will never leave me.

He gives everything he has to his children and asks for nothing in return. He is quite possibly the least-selfish man I’ve ever known.

When he met his first great-grandchild, my daughter, he had such a serene look of pride on his face when he said, “She has a beautiful complexion. Most babies are a little blotchy when they’re born but she’s perfect.” He tells me what a nice and handsome boy I have.

I showed this picture to my co-workers and my boss said I look a lot like my grandfather. I never saw it before but yes, I do. The oval face, the defined and high cheek apples. I always knew I got my sense of humor from my mom but she got it from her dad and oh, my grampa has a fantastically dry sense of humor. On our picture thing that we had at our wedding where people signed happy messages to the happy couple, my grandfather wrote: “Better late than never!” I laughed so hard when I read that the next day because, it’s so my grampa.

Yesterday he said, “I used to tell people that I’m getting older every year. I don’t say that anymore. I’ve arrived: I’m old!”

I left him a voice mail last night as I drove back home because I’ve never been good about expressing myself in the spoken word. I hope the simple and multiple “I love yous” conveyed everything I hold dear about this wonderful man I’m lucky enough to call my one and only grampa.


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