10:30 am on Sunday morning June 22nd, 2014, my granddad died. On a typical Sunday, he would have been at church at that time. For some reason, that gives me comfort to know that he died around the same time he would have been doing something he loved and believed in. I wasn’t there when he died. I was in San Francisco in bed sleeping. I remember my dad’s call to tell me. I remember the numb feeling that passed over me as the news reached my ears and my heart. He is gone.
Death is a hard concept to grasp. It didn’t hit me truly at first. At some point last week, I remember all of a sudden realizing upon looking at my last picture and moment with him that I would never see him again or hear his voice. Just typing that brings tears to my eyes. He was such a gentleman and loved me so deeply it is hard to fathom.
He was a selfmade man. He told me stories about how he worked at a bakery at night and went to school during the day. Once he ate too many buns and got sick on the way to the bus. He worked tirelessly. He went to three different colleges playing football at each. He served in the Navy but never went overseas. He went to Duke and, when I announced I would be going to UNC, said with a twinkle in his eye and a smirk on his face, “Congrats on getting into the second best school in North Carolina.”
My dad sent me an email a couple days ago listing out “pearls” of memories he had with him. I’ve been waiting for the right time to list my own. For me, they are less pearls and more vignettes of memories.
When I was younger (think elementary school), I hated breakfast. For some reason, nothing was appetizing in the morning. Now the opposite is true! I often remember sitting and eating breakfast with my Granddad as he always ate cereal with fruit. Being the picky youngster I was, I would never eat any browned or bruised fruit. I remember he would always eat them for me and give me the freshest fruit. If somehow, a bruised piece of fruit got into my bowl he would dunk his big spoon into mine and eat it for me reminding me not to waste my food.
My grandparents lived in Long Boat Key, FL for a time when I was growing up. We would visit them from time to time during the year as they were only about 2 hours away. I will always remember my granddad taking care of his rose bushes every day. They were right in front of their house by the water in beautiful clay structures. He would always make sure to pick one for me and bring it to me. If I was feeling helpful, he would let me help water them and trim them.
I was notorious as a youngster for going and sneaking into my parents bed. I would move very very slowly until eventually I found my way into my dad’s warm arms where he would hold me and I would inevitably (and accidentally) kick him thanks to my flinching. As a result, he was known as the “warmy up machine”. I remember once visiting my grandparents I think by myself. I made my way in the middle of the night down their long staircase into my grandparents bedroom. I saw my granddad and slowly made my way to him. He, like my dad, let me join him in bed and wrapped his warm arms around me. I then remember quite vividly getting WAY too hot. He was MUCH warmer than my dad and I eventually had to make an escape as I began sweating. As a result, the “super warmer up machine” was his nickname.
Almost every summer since I can remember, my family has gone to a place called Kanuga. My grandparents started coming with us at some point in time. The great thing about Kanuga is the lack of electronics that is pervasive there. Thanks to being forced to disconnect, our family would spend a lot of time hiking, playing cards, doing puzzles, napping, etc. One night, we had some extra downtime and my granddad taught me how to play Gin Rummy. I caught on quickly and started to love the game asking him to play as much as I could. After a couple of rounds playing one night, Granddad put money on a game. “We’ll each put $50 in.” I have always been a big saver and have also always been competitive. I quickly ran to my room and got the money. The game started and somehow I won. My grandmother eventually had to force him to pay me saying, “Bob, a bets a bet!” Whenever I last visited him the last week at his nursing home, I brought that game back up to him. He smiled.
Another memory at Kanuga that I will always hold dear to me is when I decided to lie to get out of the day camps they had for kids. I absolutely hated them most of the time and would try everything to get out of them. One day my parents mentioned we were going to go to the Biltmore Estates which would allow me to have a day off. When the plans fell through, I decided to tell the camp counselors I was going so I could sneak out of camp. I thought I was home free knowing my parents were on a hike that afternoon and bursted into our cabin happy as could be. While I was making plans to go get candy, I ran right into my grandparents. Without saying much, they promised not to tell and let me go. My granddad tossed a wink my way as I left the cabin to go play hooky.
At the house in Longboat key, my granddad had a beautiful office where he would work. It was one of my favorite places to sit and curl up for a nap. With high ceilings and dark furniture, it just felt like a cave. I remember the artwork that hung around the room and the couch that was placed there. I remember he had this weight that he would use from time to time. I think it is about 20 lbs. As a kid, I remember being so impressed watching him pick it up. When they moved closer to us, he still had the weight and it sat by his chair. When I went to say goodbye to my grandma after saying my final goodbye to him, I remember seeing the weight there. It was an old weight but it was his.
I hate golf. I always have and probably always will. I can remember too many hours going out to the driving range with my dad, brother, uncle, and granddad. I can recall how well he hit the ball and how even his swing was. He never got mad if I accidentally swung and took a chunk of the earth with my swing. He always gave me pointers and let me hit his balls when I ran out of my own. I remember sitting next to him as he drove the golf cart and how tall he was compared to my short self. I remember how he sad hello to everyone we passed.
For a while, my grandparents lived near Lake Osceola in Winter Park. When my parents went out of town, I would stay with them and my granddad would drive me to school. I can remember one morning we got in the car at about 7:05am and somehow hit every single green light on the way to school. I got out of the car at 7:15am and didn’t know what to do with the rest of my morning. We both chuckled as I think, looking back, we both didn’t know how the timing would work out.
When my parents would leave town, Hamlet would often stay with my grandparents. I remember Hamlet had never seen stairs and my granddad would have to guide him up and down cheering him along on the way. If my dog came in the middle of the night and woke him up, he would take him out. This resulted in my dog hounding my poor granddad as he took him out multiple times a night.
Anytime and anywhere my granddad drove, he played music. Often it was jazz or opera music. He absolutely loved it. I think he is a big reason why I, to this day, have a huge appreciate for that same music. Every time I hear it, I think of him and how happy music made him. I also think about how he would turn on the seat warmer every time I got into the front seat sometimes causing me to sweat profusely and other times causing me to almost fall asleep.
Right now, those are the words I can muster the courage and energy to write. I can feel more on the tips of my fingers and heart. With time and with reflection, more memories become clearer and all the more meaningful with him. He was and always will be my buddy and my example for thoughtfulness.