I wrote and read this about my grandpa at his funeral today. Despite practicing it about 20 times, I still had to blubber my way through it. Did get a few much-needed laughs, though. Ruff.
Did you guys know that my grandpa liked to drive? And talk?
The four of us have heard so many people talk about our grandpa’s driving business over the past week and how much it meant to him and people in this town. Which is funny to us, because although we knew it was a big part of his life and that he loved providing a service for great people, it just made sense to us that that’s what he would do with his time. Grandpa had a beautiful 1960s blue Impala convertible that he would whirl us around in and take us to Dairy Queen in. He taught all four of us to drive in his blue Pontiac Grand Am and his red Oldsmobile, in parking lots and 30 mile-per-hour streets. He signed off on so many of those stupid driving logs we had to fill out, and we would be extra excited to spend a weekend with Grandma and Grandpa because we knew he would always be up for a quick driving lesson. And only three out of the four of us wrecked our cars by our own doing — so he wasn’t too bad of a teacher, I’d say.
Our parents worked a lot when we were growing up, and we ended up spending quite a few weekends and evenings with our grandma and grandpa, which we looked forward to more than anything. To say that we were spoiled grandchildren would be putting it lightly. Grandma took us to the pool at Prairie Dunes while Grandpa would golf, then we would have dinner together and he would order me all the shirley temples with extra cherries that I could suck down. It was a lot.
And whenever we would visit our grandparents, it never failed that any time we left the house to go to the pool, go to dinner, go shopping, we would run into friends of our grandparents’ who were so delighted to see them and chat. You can’t swing a dead cat in this town without hitting someone who knew and adored our grandpa, and though I know we would sometimes try to act like it was so annoying to get stopped every five seconds by yet another old friend, I think we each appreciated seeing this other side of our grandpa, who was seen by many as a charming, charismatic and incredibly funny guy. Grandpa was a ladies man.
One of my favorite — and most embarrassing — memories of my grandpa was from my summers playing softball. My dad was my coach for a few years, which was awesome, but then my grandpa would also show up to a handful of games every summer and be a bug in his ear while shouting at me and my teammates on the field — always in an incredibly encouraging way. At my games, he shouted “Bear down! Bear down!” to our pitcher and would learn the names of the other girls to clap for them at the plate. My brother Todd got it worse, though, since he was the pitcher on his baseball team. Grandpa would shout “Throw ‘em the dark one!” when he was on the mound. Our family is fairly competitive about sports and notoriously hard on ourselves, so I don’t recall Todd finding it very funny at the time.
What we all did find funny, though, was the infamous Birthday Bear that continues to haunt us to this day. Years ago, our grandma bought a bear from Hallmark that sings Happy Birthday, and my grandpa was instantly attached. He called every one of us on our birthday, didn’t say a word, then turned the bear on to sing into the receiver. So on our birthdays every year, we just sat and waited for the phone call. When caller ID came around, we started letting it go to voicemail. Grandpa didn’t care. He got a kick out of it, and that man loved a good birthday. My brothers actually banded together a few years ago, kidnapped the bear and held it hostage for a few hours. Ask them about the story later — it’s a good one.
Despite all of these little quirks about our grandpa that made him such a strange guy sometimes, he was always a very stoic presence in our lives, especially when our parents went through some very tough times that I wasn’t sure we’d make it out of. He was always so logical and straightforward with us. I always appreciated how he would crouch down to our level and talk to us like we were people, really listening to what we had to say and doing whatever he could to be the fixer. He was prepared and ready with a solution to any problem you had at all times. He was there, always.
So to say that our dad is an extension of our grandpa would be quite the understatement. It’s no secret to any of you who know him that our dad is such a joy to be around. I think I always figured my dad’s incredibly nurturing and caring demeanor came from our grandma and her alone. And though Dad definitely did absorb a lot of that from her, the past year of our grandpa’s illness, of faraway relatives rushing to be with this man they cared so deeply about and help him through his struggle, of my dad being there every second of every day for his parents, really showed me how much our grandpa taught him about caring for other people, about sharing your love with others, about putting your family before everything else. Our dad is the greatest person we have ever known and the greatest dad we could have ever asked for, and that’s because he had the best dad he could have ever asked for. If we owe our grandpa for anything, I think it’s for raising and supporting such an incredible person that we are so blessed to call our dad.
And though I think we’re each still working on it, I can see so much of my dad and my grandpa in my brothers. My younger brother, Tyler, has been such a source of support for my dad and my grandma throughout the past year, stopping over to fix up the house, to run any errands our grandma needed, and to sit with Grandpa whenever Grandma needed a break. And I know our grandpa appreciated the heck out of it. We are all so proud of him. Kyle has had a special bond with Grandpa for years and also spent whatever free time he could manage to get with our grandpa, who was always a source of advice and encouragement for him. Todd, the first grandson, was so special to our grandpa, who would light up when he would talk about him and how proud he was of the man he has become. It also doesn’t hurt that Todd is the spitting image of Grandpa when he was younger, though Todd still denies it. Todd’s son, Jacob, was born just after Christmas of last year, and though Grandpa wasn’t able to be there for his birth, I remember my dad telling my grandma over the phone that Jacob had finally arrived and actually hearing, through the phone, our grandpa yelling “IS HE HERE?!” to my grandma. Pastor Jim told us the other day that Grandpa said it was the best day of his life. And we know that he meant it.
I moved away from home eight years ago to pursue college and a gig at big-time newspaper. I’ve missed out on so much time with my grandpa and so many family functions, but I never once got any grief from him about it. He was one of very few people who supported my dream from the start, no matter what it took and even when I was insistent on giving up. I think I was 7 or 8 years old when I told my grandpa I wanted to be a writer and work for a newspaper, and from then on, he called me Lois Lane. One of the last conversations I had with Grandpa was mostly him peppering me with questions about my newspaper and my job, and it was then that it became so obvious to me just how genuinely happy it made him to see his loved ones doing well. I owe everything I have to my grandparents, and that has kept me going so many times when I’ve wanted to call it quits.
Grandpa used to always greet me with a “Hi, Darlin’!” And when I would leave he would always say “Glad you got to see me.” It hurts so much to know that I won’t hear that ever again, but I know that we’re all even more glad that we got to see him for as long as we did, as often as we did and as much as we’ll continue to see him in our dad, in our grandma and in each other.