Grandpa George

Grandpa George

My grandpa died two weeks ago today. My dad’s dad.

I’ve only been able to say those words out loud twice. Twice. Once it was only a whisper. Both times, I couldn’t finish without breaking down in tears.

I’m in shock. When I allow my mind to settle on the fact that he’s gone, I feel sick. My chest tightens. The tears roll out of my eyes and onto my cheeks.

How can a man that took up so much space in my memories be gone from the planet? He was going to turn ninety this June 14th.

My grandpa George was my main grandpa – we lived in the same town until I was twenty-two years old. I spent a lot of time at their house growing up. In fact, my grandparents lived down the street from my high school, and I used to drive over there after school to talk with them.

Their house was the center of all our family gatherings.

My Aunt and cousins lived in the same town as us too, and we all would get together weekly. Dinners, every birthday for each of us, holidays, Easter egg hunts, everything.

My grandparents moved in with my parents about ten years ago, and a couple years ago, settled into a place of their own with more support for meals, etc. That time they spent living with my parents allowed me to get more time with them than I would have otherwise – and gave my own children the opportunity to get to know my grandparents. From FaceTime “hellos” to getting quality time whenever we visited my family, I’m forever grateful for those years.

They had their own space in the downstairs level of my parents home, and we would go sit in their living room to chat. My grandma would give the kids candy, and they would talk about their friends and our other family members, we’d talk about their cat, Max, and my grandpa would be watching golf, or the news, Law & Order (my grandma’s favorite show – she would call it “Doink Doink” for the sound that’s throughout the show at scene changes), or Blue Bloods (he loved watching reruns over and over).

With my grandpa’s passing, my childhood memories are flooding back to me.

He was front and center in so much of my childhood and adulthood. I am realizing how lucky I am to say that, although it hasn’t fully registered just how lucky I am.

I find myself walking through countless moments and trying to seal them into my mind now that he’s gone. I don’t want to lose any details. Each one is precious. I feel panicked about the thought that those memories could slip away too.

The way the light would come through their windows at different times of days, the food we ate, the music we listened to, what we would talk about…

The following is only a partial list of the moments flashing through my mind.

When our family would get together for dinners, my grandma would cook most everything from scratch. Each dinner would have a salad with lots of veggies, golden raisins – yes, golden specifically – and homemade Italian dressing shaken up in a glass dressing bottle with a white lid.

There are dishes that she would make that are vividly in my memories: pasties, beef stew, chicken and dumplings, the turkey on Thanksgiving with perfectly browned skin sitting on the corner of her counter with foil over the top (we would all swipe skin pieces as she was finishing side dishes, and she’d tell us to knock it off), pineapple upside down cake, individual yams sitting on a pineapple ring + toasted marshmallow on top.

No matter how seasoned the food was, my grandpa would add a large amount of salt to everything. It was one of his signature quirks.

He loved his chardonnay. My grandma referred to it as “panther piss.” ?

After dinner, we would listen to Fleetwood Mac and Eric Clapton. We all sang along to the songs.

My grandma would make coffee and tea, asking each adult which they would prefer.

For the kids, she would make us Goofy Tea. I’m not sure if other people in this world know about it – it felt special and unique to our family. Essentially, it was powdered Tang with cinnamon and Red Hots added to it, served hot. She would keep it stored in a mason jar, and you could see the Red Hots swirling through the granules.

We drank it from glass mugs, and you could see the Red Hots stuck to the bottom.

They had a pantry in their kitchen – sometimes there would be fruit snacks in it for us kids. Their freezer was always stocked with Bon Bons. I remember once talking to my grandma about a Cup of Noodles, telling her there was too much sodium in them. She told me that’s only if you drink all the broth, so if you don’t, it’s not so bad. That sticks with me to this day as my daughter now eats a Trader Joe’s version very often.

My grandparents had two tortoises as pets. They are the only people I’ve met so far in life to have tortoises. Their names were Sherman and Panzer; named after WWII tanks as my grandpa served in the Airforce. They would hibernate in the winter in a box underneath their stairs with crumpled newspaper. In the warmer months, they would roam their backyard. We would feed them melon rinds and lettuce. They are still alive today, by the way. My Uncle has had them the last few years.

My grandpa met my grandma when he was stationed in Alaska with the Airforce. My grandma is an Alaskan Native American, and their home was filled with things from Alaska – artifacts and artwork. Paintings of wolves, a walrus bone called an Oosik (it was actually a penis bone, weird but something my family laughed about, it was a family joke), a painting of a Native woman, a fully intact whale baleen hanging on the wall, Eskimo masks, polar bear figurines. My dad’s favorite animal is a polar bear – maybe has something to do with the Alaska roots. I found it all magical.

Their backyard was sloped, as they were on the top of a hill. You could see the city lights from their deck, and my grandparents room, at night. They had raised flower beds spanning one side of their backyard made from railroad ties.

My cousin Sarah tried to teach me to drive a stick shift in their cul de sac using her Toyota Tacoma truck. I peeled out on accident and you could see the rubber marks from the tires for years afterwards.

There was a skylight in their bathroom, and a big storage closet in it with accordion doors. I used to love looking through all my grandma’s lotions and creams, cotton swabs, and other toiletries.

My grandma always smelled of Triple Lanolin Aloe Vera lotion – it was in a green and white bottle.

My grandparents had the best down comforters.

My grandpa was very charismatic. He loved to make conversation about sports, politics, school, anything really. He loved to debate, but equally loved to tease us and joke around. I can see him smiling and hear him laughing right now. He was very conservative politically, and I once bought and wrapped one of Hillary Clinton’s books and gave it to him as a prank. It makes me smile even now to think about it.

He loved basketball and golf. He was a hardcore Portland Trailblazers fan and watched every game (they lived in the Portland area for some years). Him and my dad tried to get me to learn and play golf as a kid. I remember them taking me to the driving range and teaching me how to swing the club. I wish I could go back in time and take that more seriously. Myself and my own little family that I have grown have a love for basketball as well. Maybe part of it for me are those memories I had with him.

 My grandma was very in tune with my emotions and would notice if I had knots in my shoulders (and massage them), or if my fists were clenched. She had a habit of grabbing my hand and untucking my thumb from my fist, and laying my hand flat on my lap. I still catch myself with my thumb tucked into my hand and remove it, take a breath, and think about my grandma.

I got to talk to my grandpa a few times over his last three months. I don’t think that’s by accident.

I think the universe orchestrated it so that we could share in a few more conversations.

He told me that my family looks great, that we have built a good life for ourselves. He told me multiple times what an athlete Dakota looks like, and that I should keep encouraging her to do sports as she gets older – that her body moves like an athlete. I was able to tell him I love him and miss him. He was himself as recent as early March.

You may have noticed that although it’s my grandpa who passed away, I wrote about memories of my grandma as well. The two of them were married and in love up until the day he died; nearly 70 years together. My grandma has dementia that has progressed over the last few years, and he tried very hard to have her be the first to go. He didn’t want her to be alone. At the end, his body and mind were tired… my grandma’s own health is declining, and she has been moved to a hospice home after my grandpa’s passing.

I think what has made this so hard is that it’s become a slow mourning of not only two of the people that mean the most to me, and have helped shaped who I am as a person, but of the permanent closing of one of the most beautiful times of my life. The permanence of death is stifling.

My logical side keeps trying to remind myself that it’s okay to be sad, but to take comfort in the fact that I was fortunate enough to experience all those memories above and more.

I know that I’m lucky. And I can now do for my own children (and future grandchildren) some of what I learned from Grandpa George and Grandma Carol. It’s the best way to honor them and continue living through all those special memories.

But it doesn’t mean I don’t miss him.

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