Have I ever told you that I have the best Grandpa in the whole world?
Growing up, Grandpa was my biggest fan. I remember planting a corn seed in my kindergarten class and giving the tiny sprout to my grandparents. My grandpa planted it in his backyard and was so proud of the little corn stalk it grew into. So very proud, in fact, that he had a little photo album that documented it’s growth.
Years later, we’d come across the pictures of that cornstalk and he’d say with a grin “Do you remember that? That was special.”
My cousin and I used to sneak into Grandma and Grandpa’s bedroom and dress up — Niki as Grandma, right down to a sock-stuffed bra and bright lipstick, and me as Grandpa with one of his hats on my head and pillows in my shirt to mimic that big, round tummy of his — and we’d put on silly skits or sing and dance for them. I don’t know how Grandpa really felt about it, but he always made us feel like he loved it, and he treated us like total STARS.
I think he must have attended every horse show I ever rode in. I was easily embarrassed back then, and I remember feeling my cheeks burn every time he’d shout “Jenny SUE!!!” from the stands at the top of his lungs. But he wasn’t trying to embarrass me, he just wanted me to know he was watching. He also used to set up barrels in his backyard so that my horse and I could practice running the pattern. He’d watch me ride around, waving to me and snapping pictures. I think he was the ONLY one who whole-heartedly believed in my (short-lived) dream to become a champion barrel racer. He promised that he’d shout my name from the stands at the National Finals Rodeo someday. Sorry we never made it there, Grandpa.
My grandpa was creative; he’d make all sorts of carnival games out of wood and bean bags, or bowling games out of empty coffee creamer bottles. He collected things, sometimes really strange things; the walls of an entire room of their old house were covered in hats, and somewhere there is a jar with a bunch of our (his grand kids) teeth in it. He used to randomly tell me, “Come out to my shed, there’s something I want to show you.” Sometimes it was something interesting like incredibly old, tattered newspapers, other times he just needed someone to compliment him on how well he’d stacked the firewood.
Grandpa was stubborn. He was grumpy. He was bullheaded. He was proud. He would randomly break out in song, “Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way. I can’t to wait to look in the mirror, cause I get better looking each day!” But everyone who really knew him, knows that it was all a facade. He had to be rough and tough on the outside to protect that delicate, sweet soul he had on the inside. Undeniably, Grandpa had an ENORMOUS heart and when he loved, he loved so fully. Take Kirby, for example: he was a cocker spaniel that my uncle brought home to my grandpa. Grandpa insisted that he wanted nothing to do with “that damn dog”. But in time, he decided he kinda liked Kirby and eventually the two became best friends. When they went out to dinner, Grandpa would stash some food away in a napkin and take it home to his buddy. Not only did Kirby get to sit on the front seat whenever he rode with Grandpa in the truck, he also got to come inside when Grandma wasn’t home. (Was that secret out of the bag, yet? Did I just nark on Grandpa?) When Kirby died, Grandpa was heartbroken. For weeks, the mere mention of Kirby’s name brought him to tears.
While he loved all his grand kids, he absolutely adored
his granddaughters. He hugged us more often… had a little more patience with us… let us get away with a little more. We were his special
girls. He used to ask if we wanted sips of his beer or coffee saying, “it’ll put hair on your chest” or occasionally “it’s what makes me so sexy”.
I don’t know if he ever understood that I didn’t really want hair on my chest.
A few years ago there was a church meeting that my grandma couldn’t go to (I think she was sick). When I walked in during the opening song and saw Grandpa sitting there alone, I quietly sat in the chair next to him, slid my arm around his and laid my head on his shoulder. Neither of us moved until the song ended. Since that day, there have been several times that Grandpa has told me how special that moment was to him.
My grandpa didn’t seem like an old man to me. Sure, he was hard of hearing and didn’t get around quite as well as he used to, but for an 80 year old man he was in awesome shape! Part of me thought he would be around forever. We all used to joke that he was just too stubborn to die.
Several weeks ago, my Grandpa started feeling ill. Last Tuesday he was diagnosed with cancer in his colon, liver and spine. Five days later he passed away peacefully, surrounded by loved ones.
It’s hard to explain the way I felt seeing the man I once thought was invincible laying in a hospital bed, weak, frail, and exhausted. It was such a comfort to know that although his body was languishing, his soul was still larger than life. He was Grandpa right up to the end — winking at the nurses, insisting he wasn’t staying in that bed… just as ornery as ever!
Because he was so heavily sedated (not because he was in pain, but because he kept trying to escape) the last time I was able to speak to him was the night before he passed. He wasn’t very coherent even then, but was experiencing occasional lucid moments in which he could respond by squeezing a hand or mumbling a few words. Before I went home for the night, I took his hand and leaned in close to him. I told him that I loved him and was really, really going to miss him. He opened his mouth as if he was trying to say something.
“I think he’s trying to say he loves you too,” my grandma said. But then, clear as day, my grandpa whispered to me, “You’re special“.
People have asked if I’m okay, if I’m really handling this alright. The truth is, yes, I’m okay. I’m sad and I’ve cried a LOT. I’m really going to miss my friend. I’m heartbroken that Morgan won’t have the chance to know her great-grandpa the way I did, or even remember him most likely. I’m concerned about my grandma and how she’s going to cope without her partner of 46 years. But mostly I’m just so damn grateful for the memories; grateful it was a peaceful passing and that he’s in a better place; grateful he’s been reunited with his loved ones on the other side.
Thanks for all the good times, Grandpa. Thank you for making me feel special, and thank you for being special. Thank you for always sneaking me cookies and sips of your Dr. Pepper. Thank you for telling me I’m beautiful. Thank you for loving my girls. Thank you for all the memories. I love you “with all my heart and half my gizzard”.
Like I said before you left, it’s not goodbye, it’s see you later. Since I know there are going to be a lot of people up there and I might have a hard time finding you, I’ll be listening for that familiar tune “Oh, Lord it’s hard to be humble“.
And I have a feeling I know just what you’ll say when you see me… “Jenny SUE!!!”
For those of you who knew my Grandpa
and may be interested in reading his
obituary, you can do so here.