I don't know how other people would define my grandfather. I only know how I define him having known him during his last 35 years rather than the more tumultuous 54 years he experienced before my birth. He served in Europe during World War 2, and I'm certain that had to be one of the hardest experiences of any man's life at that time. After the war, he married my grandmother when she was in her sweet 16 year. They raised 8 boys and a daughter together and lost another in her toddler years to a tragic accident.
Grandpa overcame alcoholism long before I was born. I can't imagine overcoming such a thing. I have heard tales of how Grandpa behaved during his years of alcoholism, but I didn't know him that way. I knew him to be gentle and kind but always knew that behind that quiet spirit lay the ability to knock a person into a wall if he needed to (and I say that with a smile on my face having never known him to do such a thing). He was strong and quiet for all the years I knew him.
When I was a little girl, we didn't see my grandparents often because we didn't live nearby. When I was 7, I was given the incredible privilege of spending a couple weeks with my grandparents. I remember Grandma and Uncle Dan coming to visit us in Michigan, and I got to ride home with them. Grandma and I would run around together during the day, and then Grandpa would come home from his job as the County Superintendent and make dinner. He did most of the cooking. I loved his cole slaw and hamburger gravy (not together, of course).
We spent a week camping by the Tuscarawas River that summer. I loved, loved, loved it. We fished and read and listened to the radio. We picked wild raspberries and weathered a storm in the camper while Grandpa consoled my fears by listening to a baseball game with me. Grandpa fried eggs for breakfast and played triominoes with Grandma and me in the afternoon. That week is one of my favorite childhood memories.
When I was 9, we stayed with Grandma and Grandpa for a few months. That was the year Grandpa decided to stop chewing tobacco. He bought bags and bags of pink bubble gum to chew until he got past the cravings of the tobacco.
On one hot, summer afternoon, Grandpa invited my sister and me to help him wash the car in the front yard. Someone from the local newspaper showed up and took our photo for the daily "around the town" feature photo. We weren't posed. We were just washing the car with our grandfather. I thought having your photo in the newspaper had to be just about the coolest thing ever. Somewhere, I still have a copy of that photo.
When I was 10, Grandpa retired, and he and Grandma moved into the house next door to ours. I loved having them next door. I saw them every single day. I would go to their house to visit. We played skip-bo for hours. I spent the night often and stayed up super late watching John Wayne movies and shows like Gunsmoke and Bonanza. Grandpa would make eggs and sizzilean for breakfast. The house always smelled like coffee in the morning, and Grandma and Grandpa always let me have a cup.
After that, I spent my summers fishing with Grandma and Grandpa in our back yard. We fed a family of ducks together. We hosted family reunions and picnics in the picnic shelter in the river bottoms. Grandpa, Dad and all my uncles played horse shoes by the giant tree that I was always certain was going to fall on them. We swam in the river and chased cousins around the trees. Even if I wasn't doing something with Grandpa, he was nearby, always watching, always making sure that everything was okay.
As a teenager, we moved a few miles away to a bigger house in Warsaw. Grandma and Grandpa stayed by the river. I would ride my bicycle to their house and spend afternoons there visiting and playing games. Grandma and Grandpa were the kind of people you could drop into visit without notice and stay for hours and hours. I took advantage of that and visited often. Even in my later teen years when I was very involved in high school extracurricular activities, driving, working and being a typical foolish teenager, I would grab my bicycle and ride over to Grandma and Grandpa's now and then.
My college years and the time since brought me less time to spend with my grandparents, but I'll never forget all those incredible memories I have from my growing up years, nor the visits I had with them as an adult. I remember Grandpa holding Ava when she was a baby. There are no words to describe the feeling you get when you see your big, strong Grandpa holding your sweet baby girl. She looked so small in his arms. When he was in the hospital for the first time that I can remember, Ava was 2. She sat next to him stroking his arm over and over as if he were the most important person in her life. She loved him with all her heart. Since that time, Ava has continued to adore Grandpa. She was always ready to give him a hug and kiss and never left him without a newly colored picture to hang on his wall.
This week my children will attend the first funeral of someone they knew. This is a man for whom I cared deeply, my last grandparent. 8 living children, 16 living grandchildren, more great grand children than I have taken time to count, siblings, cousins, friends...so many loved my grandfather. So many will gather to remember this man and all that he meant to us. These are the moments to which we do not look forward in life, but these are the moments which we would not choose to rob from our loved ones either. Grandpa knew Jesus. We asked him a year or two ago because, 15 years ago, he did not know Jesus and told me he didn't want to discuss it. God worked a miracle in his heart, and, for that, I am grateful. Prayers have been answered, and right now? My Grandpa is sitting at the feet of my Jesus.