Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Tribute

Grandpa with his favorite furry friend,
I'm lucky...go ahead, be jealous.  :)  I have known this for a long time.  Things just always seem to work out in the end for me (my Dad always told me this and he's right).  Today I am reflecting on this luck.  I have been TRULY, madly, deeply blessed to have and to really KNOW all 4 of my grandparents from the day I was born until yesterday.  Yesterday my G'pa, my dad's dad, passed away. This is where my luck, this gift of 35 years on this Earth living and breathing day in and day out knowing that my beloved grandparents are all doing the same, has failed me.  I am totally unprepared for this.  I mean, I know that it all has to end someday, but I just haven't truly considered it to be a possibility.  I know it doesn't really make sense, but I like to live in my little naive hole of denial sometimes and then am blown away when my perfect little world is rocked a little bit.  So, to help me through this, I am going on a little trip down memory lane and partaking in a little writing "therapy."

My Dad's parents have always been referred to as G'ma and G'pa in writing, but mostly I just call them Grandma & Grandpa.  My kids refer to them as Gigi Ma and Gigi Pa.  Their homes, there have been 3 that I remember well over the years, have always been places of whimsy and magic.  The first home I remember was a stone home on a big treed lot...it must have been on the edge of their town because it felt like it was out in the country and I remember that there was a hog farm nearby that you could sometimes smell when outside. I so fondly remember snagging dozens of fireflies and rolling down the little slope in their yard on beautiful Kansas evenings.  I also remember plucking blackberries (I believe) from a tree on the side of their house and savoring the sweetness as Grandma cleaned the house and watered her beautiful plants and Grandpa worked.  Early on in their residence in this home during one of my stays with them, there was a torrential rainstorm.  One that revealed the poor condition of their roof as water began dripping from multiple places overhead.  My little toddler self waddled out from my sleeping place to find Grandma and Grandpa placing pots and pans to catch the streams and drips, as Grandpa grumbled about the situation and I excitedly exclaimed, "It's raining INSIDE!"  I'm not sure if I actually remember that or that the memory has formed itself in my mind after hearing my Grandma's recitation of it once or twice in my life. ;)  My Grandma is a wonderful storyteller (and writer) and my Grandpa was a wonderful listener...perhaps why they "worked" so well.

Their next move took them into the beautiful foothills of Colorado and I think I was about 5 when they made this leap.  They lived on a large lot on the side of a mountain with a little horse next door, what more could a little girl, a self-professed tomboy, ask for???  In the summers we spent hours scaling "their" mountain, climbing the large boulders at the top or reveling in the view that the little meadow at the top held in its majesty.  In the winters, we would arrive to their house long after the sun had slipped behind the mountains.  Stepping out of our van after a 500 mile trek, the snow would crunch under my shoes and the crisp, still mountain air would almost hurt to breathe in, but provided just the rush needed to fuel an excited dash to the house to distribute hugs.  I can very nearly FEEL the wall of warmth that I crashed through as I crossed the threshold into their home.  The smell that is etched in my mind was a somehow wonderful mix of Uncle Ben's wild rice, bourbon (their adult beverage of choice) and coffee.  I know it sounds strange, but it's one of my favorite smell mixes now and I wish I had it in a bottle.  Funny how even the thought of smells brings such a flood of memories (and maybe even a flood of tears).

Through our stays, Grandma provided us with the names of all of the birds and trees native to the area and Grandpa provided us with a silent, gruff affection.  Our favorite book at that time (Ok...it COULD still be my favorite book) was about a large and growly bear who was looking for someone to scare.  Grandma would read that book over and over and over again during our week long stays and she would tell us that Grandpa was that large and growly bear.  I believed it with the very fiber of my being.  I was terrified of Grandpa.  I was a terribly shy kid and his grizzliness (I like to make up words...give me a break) intimidated me.

He was oh so proud of his steaks.  He could grill the PERfect steak.  Of course, as a kid my appreciation of this art was slim and I longed for a big glob of ketchup to help it go down.  Trying to sneak such errant behavior under his radar was a challenge.  When he was very focused on his meal or in conversation with other guests at the table, I would very quietly whisper my request in G'ma's ear, she would always smuggle the catsup (as she called it...we could giggle for hours about that) to the table and I would do my best to eat as politely and discreetly at possible.  Grandpa always won, though.  Even IF I managed to devour my ketchup slathered steak without his discovery, a "happy plate" was always Grandpa's cue to offer more.  If you declined he would respond with a deep, "You don't like it!" To which one who was not accustomed to this form of dry humor (possibly a 6 or 7 year old granddaughter) would look for one more helping of something on the table they could hopefully stuff into an already engorged belly to appease the beast.  At that age I didn't quite get him, but I discovered very early on that there was NOTHING greater than making the man crack a smile and if you drew a belly laugh from him, you were golden.

On one trip there, I was probably around 10 or 12, Grandma was making dinner and my brother, sister and I had been glued to the TV in the living room for quite some time.  Grandpa came in and sat in HIS chair and suggested that I should set the table.  I'm not sure what came over me, but I very sassily blurted out that setting the table was "man's work".  Immediately, I had a knot in my stomach wondering if I had just really messed up and he shot a glare at me, but I could see that rough exterior cracking and a little smirk on his lips turned into that dreamed about belly laugh.  I proceeded to jump up and set the table to which I once again was scolded for doing it wrong (I had no idea where the proper places for silverware were), and he very kindly taught me how to set a table correctly.  It was that moment that I caught on...the growly bear was just a ruse, a cover-up for the giant teddy bear that was hidden underneath.

Gokey meeting Gigi Pa for the first
time and already dragging him
around by his finger.
I grew up and they moved on and into a house near the previous one, but one that they dreamt up from the ground up.  The relationship I had with Grandpa was a special one and as frequently as possible (which wasn't near as frequently as I or they would have liked), I made my own way up there as I gained independence dragging high school and college girl friends and one particularly fabulous boyfriend (I love you, J) with me.  I always made sure to warn them about the "you don't like it" gig and they always got along famously.  I don't really know how to explain our relationship...there's nothing that stands out or is especially sentimental.  It's just that his love was big...he didn't say a lot, but when he did it was to express his love or his appreciation of a call or visit from his eldest granddaughter.  Grandma mostly did all the talking, but his quiet presence was steadfast, strong, supportive and fantastically affectionate.

So, back to the luck...I am furiously lucky...so amazingly lucky to have made all of these wonderful memories in the last 35 years that Grandpa had such a hand in creating.  And now, in his absence, I am feeling exceptionally grateful and lucky to have these 4 perfect little distractions to keep me moving.

 My last visit with Grandma & Grandpa a year ago.  That's
Jilly Bean in my arms. :)

Grandpa, I love you.  You've been gone for less than a day and I miss you fiercely and would give my right arm to see that smile one more time or hear your disdain for Texas drivers (no offense to my in-laws, but mountain driving is not your forte). :)  You are my favorite Growly Bear...see ya on the other side!