This weekend, surrounded by his wife and children and some of his grandchildren, my grandfather passed away. He’d been in the hospital for a while, though I wasn’t aware until recently that it was as serious as it was. Luckily, as I recently returned home from my shift out West, I was able to visit him in the hospital before the end. He wasn’t awake, but I got to see him and talk to him, and that’s what’s important.
My grandfather had a stroke many years ago, and since then he’d been a very different man. I prefer to remember him as he was when I was younger, and with that in mind, as a form of memorial (and because I express my feelings best in writing), I’d like to share a few memories I have…
Poppy used to make my cousins and I the best root beer floats, most of the time with vanilla ice cream, but sometimes with butter ripple, which was just heavenly. I can recall more than a couple of occasions when he made us the floats after being told not to by parties who would have preferred us to have something healthy.
He also used to have “egg parties” with us, during which he would make us egg salad sandwiches with Cheese Whiz on the bread. As a child I absolutely hated eggs, so I personally think that this was just his way of forcing me to eat them, because everything tastes better when drowned in mayonnaise and Cheese Whiz.
Poppy made the best bonfires…I use the word “best” as a subjective term. Looking back, a lot of people probably would have looked at his fires and thought he was either looney or a terrible camper, but my cousins and I thought he was awesome. He would load everything imaginable into the fire, including (but not limited to) planks of wood that he snapped clean off run-down parts of the cabin, old tires, and giant piles of leaves collected by my cousins and I. The fires were an enormous monument to the gods of smoke and ash, and they were absolutely amazing.
He used to let my cousins and I ride in the back of his truck whenever possible. At first we could do it pretty much any time, but the laws must have changed at some point while I was young, because after a while we could only do it when we were on the dirt road that lead to the cabin. Regardless, this is a joy I think modern-day kids really miss out on. There was nothing quite like leaning back in the back of a truck with the wind beating the hair around your head.
When I was small and we would all go to the beach together, Poppy seemed ridiculously tough. It didn’t matter how cold the water was, he plowed right in and acted as though it was lukewarm tub water. Additionally, if any jellyfish or bloodsuckers washed up on the beach, he’d pick them up with his bare hands and toss them back in the water. Back then I thought he was incredibly brave because I could barely stand to touch a jellyfish with a stick.
Poppy always seemed to be encouraging my cousins and I to do things that everyone else would tell us not to do. He would let us sleep on the top bunk in the cabin, even though Nanny said it was too high. He seemed to get the biggest kick out of my cousin fishing snakes out of the woodpile outside, even (and probably more-so) after one of the snakes took a bite out of his finger once. He took us out to shoot a BB gun at targets in the woods even though we may have been a little too young for such a thing. I don’t know if he enjoyed defying everyone else, or if he just honestly had more faith in us than the other adults. Either way, it made him the cool one.
But if I’m honest, above all these other things, there is one memory that sticks out in my head, clear as day. It’s a simple thing, really, but for me it’s a memory to cherish. I remember being quite young, maybe six or so, being at the cabin with a ton of family, and bouncing on Poppy’s knee. I can picture him sitting on the couch, wearing jeans and a flannel shirt and a baseball cap, and there I am on his knee, laughing as he bounces me until I fall off and land on the floor in a pile of giggles. Above all else, I can picture this as clear as day, as though it happened just yesterday.
This is how I choose to remember my grandfather, as a wonderful, playful man who loved his family.
I love you, Poppy. Rest well.