Thursday, August 06, 2009
Memories of Grandpa.
It has been an interesting time for me, processing all that has happened in the past week. It seems odd that a person can get to be almost 40 years old before losing a close relative, but Grandpa's death is indeed my first close-up experience with that kind of loss.
I loved and respected my grandpa very much, but I was not especially close with him. He was a complex person--as of course most of us humans are--and came from an Old Order Mennonite family that was quite non-demonstrative and more than slightly dysfunctional. He didn't like to talk about his childhood for the most part.
In the bit of dabbling I've done with genealogy, I often wish I had more information about the kind of people my ancestors were, any little bits that would give me a peek into their lives and help me see who they were and what qualities I may have gotten from them. So I thought I'd write down some things I remember and some things I know about Grandpa, in case some future descendant ever wants to know.
Grandpa only received an eighth-grade education before having to leave school, but he made up for that as an adult by finding books that would teach him whatever he wanted and needed to know. He was a creative person who loved to tinker and make things. When I brought my husband-to-be into the family, Grandpa recognized a kindred spirit, and hauled Todd down to the basement to show him all the stereo equipment he had rigged up so he could listen to and record his favorite classical music.
Grandpa raised eight kids on a very meager salary, but still did his best to provide them with treats and trips. He ran an auto body shop from his home for years. He loved birds and always had feeders close to the kitchen window so he could watch them. He built bluebird houses and put them up on all the roads around his home--whenever I see a bluebird, it always makes me think of him.
He painted a small antique chest of drawers a psychedelic shade of acid green, and was very proud of the effect. I can remember at the time thinking that it was just plain wrong, and I was only 7 or 8 years old! He made 8-track tapes of songs and stories for me and my siblings to listen to when we were little.
He was a father as well as a grandpa to my cousin Michael when my aunt Kathy was a struggling single mom trying to work and go to school and keep a roof over their heads. He fretted over the health and well-being of everyone in his family, and there were a lot of us to fret over. Mom remembers the words "Keep us safe from harm and evil" being a regular part of his mealtime prayers.
He had a big orchard with peach, apricot, and apple trees. Probably pears, too, but I can't remember for sure. He had a blueberry patch, and he rigged up a cannon-type of gun that would fire at intervals to scare the birds away in the summertime. I don't think it was especially effective, but I'm sure all the neighbors loved it.
He provided wagons and balls and various rusty outdoor toys for us grandkids, and wasn't terribly happy when we would swing on the low branches of the big weeping willow in the front yard instead.
He took lots of photos and would let me sit and look at all the slides of them with his little slide viewer. He liked to travel and got to indulge in that later in life, when my uncle Lowell went to work for an airline and could get Grandpa and Grandma inexpensive tickets.
He liked cats and music and fishing and National Geographic magazines. He did not suffer fools gladly. He almost chopped off his thumb with a saw once, and had to have it pinned back on till it healed. When someone at church asked him teasingly if the protruding pin was his strawberry huller, he replied that no, it was his nose picker.
He struggled with depression and anxiety all his life, but he survived and thrived despite it. I find this helpful to remember, as I'm one of his descendants who unfortunately inherited those genes. But I also inherited his curiosity and love of knowledge, and the belief that all the answers are out there if I can just find the right book.
It seems like often when an elderly person has long and difficult final years, it can be easy to forget the person they were before that. What our family has been talking and thinking about for the past few days has been the person Grandpa was in all the long years of his life before the end when ill health took over. That is the person we wept for on Saturday and Sunday, even though we were glad to know that he is at peace and not struggling any more. He was at the root of our family, and it makes a difference in our lives to have him gone now.