We will bury my Granddad tomorrow. It’s been hard to find my words since he died. I think it’s because it’s profoundly hard to lose some of the simplest love of my life. For me, grandparents are uncomplicated love. Parent, child, sibling, spouse & friend relationships have nuance to them. But my Nano & Granddad loved me fiercely because I exchanged oxygen; breathing in and out was enough for them to think I was spectacular. I returned the favor by worshipping them all my life.
He served in World War II as a Marine. He was tough as nails, but I can never remember him being anything but gentle with the grandkids. When he used to take me riding in his truck as a child, I would stand in the seat next to him with his arm wrapped around my knees (cause that’s the same as a seatbelt). We would go “visiting,” as he called it. He would take me to see his kin. Most of them are dead now, or close to it. I don’t remember many of them except as vague figures who rattle around in my mind. I can still hear their voices though, mostly their accents. They were country people: smart, but not sophisticated.
The Depression required him to leave school to work. His lack of formal learning bothered him on some level. He used his Marine Corps skills to drill into me and my sister the importance of school. “Get your education, girls” he’d say, over and over again. “That’s something no one can ever take away from you.” My sister is a college graduate. I hold a Masters. We did what Granddad told us.
He used to introduce my sister and I as his girls. He’d say, “Wouldn’t take NOTHING for my girls. Wouldn’t take a FORTUNE for my girls.” We would puff up our chests because we were Granddaddy’s girls.
He always had his favorite recliner. For decades, it had an ashtray next to it. I would sit on his lap while he smoked (another salute to safety). The cigarettes made his final years particularly uncomfortable. Smothering from asthma and emphysema is not an easy way to go. That’s why my uncle’s kids have such different memories of him. By the time they were old enough to remember much about Granddad, age and illness had taken part of his spunk.
He lived to be 83. Up until the very end, he was lucid. He went with dignity, surrounded by his wife of 63 years and two sons in his home. It was a good death.
I know I’ve been blessed. No one gets grandparents into their 30s. Until last year I had all four plus step grandparents. (My people live long lives. Some of the women go stark, raving nuts at the end. So there’s that to look forward to.) The truth is, lots of Southern girls could write about their Granddads much the same way as I have. Southerners make spoiling the children of their offspring an art. But even though I know I’m not unique, I still feel special and grateful I was one Granddaddy’s girls.