Growing up the way my sister, my cousins and I did, our grandparents were in the very fabric of our upbringing. Looking back the memories we have of them are like the fibers of that fabric. They are too numerous to even begin to count. Whenever we would get to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, if they weren’t there for whatever reason, it was the biggest let-down. We would always expect them to be there, of course, and when they weren’t I was ready to hit the road. If we pulled in and Grandpa’s car wasn’t there he was typically either still at work, at the fire station or out on a fire call. And If it was Saturday night, then there was a good chance he was at the race track. Often when we got there, we would find Grandpa out in the garden.
Grandpa was of the generation of hard.work. He worked all day long and came home to well, work some more. But to him, it didn’t seem like work because he always seemed to enjoy it. I always remember him wearing a pair of blue dickie work pants and a button down shirt with his sleeves rolled up and always working on something. I don’t think I ever saw him in a pair of blue jeans until I was at least a senior in high school.
There was this one time that Grandpa was headed out to work in the garden and Grandma’s sassy little Scotty dog, Maggie, headed right out there with him. You have to understand that Grandpa was the dog whisperer. Every dog…from Patches and Rags when I was little, to his current dog, Sally…every dog loved Grandpa most. Regardless of the fact that Maggie was Grandma’s dog, Maggie loved Grandpa more and it totally went without saying. It was sort of the elephant in the room. So Maggie was headed out to the garden with Grandpa and Grandma didn’t want her to go. When they got about 3/4 of the way there she called Maggie from the back door, “Maggie, come!” She and Grandpa stopped by the tree, looked back and Maggie sat down. Grandma again, with a little more inflection in her voice yelled “Maggie! Come!” Maggie looked at Grandpa, looked back at Grandma and turned around and began to head back toward the garden. Grandma hollered,”Maggie! Do you want the paper!?” Grandma had a rolled up newspaper she took from Grandpa’s meticulously stacked pile she rolled up with duct tape to keep Maggie in line.
Now Grandpa was a man of few words, but his voice was as deep as the ocean he sailed on in the Navy, especially first thing in the morning. I used to wake up to the smell of coffee…we’ll get to that in a minute…and think there was a stranger in the house it was so deep. And I don’t remember Grandpa ever once yelling in my entire life, and I’ve only heard him really ‘raise’ his voice 2 or 3 times. But he did have a look. The look meant you had better straighten up! Grandpa gave Maggie the look and said simply said, “Go.” Maggie sat down, looked up at him and saw the look, and slowly stood up and walked back to the house. And that was that.
So back to coffee, when I was 4, Grandpa had quadruple-bypass surgery leaving him with what we affectionately called his “zipper” on his chest. Not long after we were just finishing up with Sunday dinner and Grandpa asked me to get him his coffee cup off the counter. I stopped and remembered what all the adults kept saying. “If he doesn’t start exercising, it’s going to kill him. If he doesn’t stop smoking it’s going to kill him.” I then asked before grabbing he cup, “Grandpa, is coffee going to kill you?” The entire table of adults burst out laughing. I was confused. He laughed and said, “No, honey, coffee isn’t going to kill me.” I said, “Okay!” I handed him his cup and ran right out to play with the rest of the kids. Grandpa loved his coffee and I think the smell of it will forever permeate that house. Grandpa made a lot of changes to ensure he would be present for his family. Just a few months later he was particularly present in a way I will never forget.
My dad, mom, sister and I were getting ready to leave Grandpa and Grandma’s house one cold, winter Saturday afternoon in my dad’s old Dodge Charger. The first-born child in me was very upset that my seat belt wouldn’t buckle and my dad said, “It’s ok. Don’t worry about it.” So we took off and just like every time we left their house rain, snow or shine, Grandpa stood on the porch and waved until we passed the tree line going North and I couldn’t see him anymore. When we got to the intersection at 8th Ave and Remembrance the snow banks were huge and dad couldn’t see. He inched out on the icy road and unable to stop a car hit us right where I was sitting sending us into a tailspin. God protected all of us that day and because of that faulty seatbelt I am here today. The very first person I remember seeing after hitting myhead on the ceiling of the car shoving me into the center seat was my Grandpa coming to the scene and looking in the back seat to check on me and my sister. I told him “I have a headache.” He said seemingly relieved “I bet!” After that I wasn’t afraid despite the scary situation because he stayed with me the entire evening in the hospital. Not long after Grandpa joined the volunteer fire department serving his community for many years to come. From the Korean War to the Tallmadge-Wright Township fire department to taking care of Grandma these last couple of years, Grandpa had the heart of a true servant.
I remember praying for Grandpa to heal when I was 4. I remember praying for Grandpa to heal when I was 21 and about to be married 3 weeks later begging God to let him be at my wedding. I distinctly remember praying for Grandpa to heal when I was 26 and 6 months pregnant with our 2nd baby and he was in the middle of the biggest surgery of his life desperately wanting him to meet our son, Max. Not only did he get to meet and know Emalynn and Max but our 3rd baby Jackson Douglas who was named after him and is now 10 years old. The changes Grandpa faithfully made to his life when I was 4 lasted now and I just turned 40. These past few weeks, however, praying for Grandpa felt different. I think God was preparing me for what was to come. I kept thinking about all the times throughout my life I’d prayed for him and realized how blessed I’ve been.
As I shared in April, I’m not here by birthright, but by the blessed gift of adoption. Grandpa never once made me feel any less loved or the slightest bit different than anyone else in our family. While I selfishly wanted to pray for Grandpa’s physical healing, I felt the Holy Spirit pulling on the strings of my heart to pray for his complete healing…for God to have mercy on his great pain and discomfort and take him to his eternal home where he could be reunited with Grandma and not have to struggle anymore. Facing goodbye is a bittersweet sorrow. While we know we will see them both again thanks to the hope we have in Jesus, to not have Grandpa and Grandma here seems wrong. It’s like a hole has been made that can’t be mended. I’m rather used to Grandma being able to mend any garment that needs mending and if dad couldn’t fix it, maybe Grandpa could, right? Ready or not…it’s the end of an era.
I’ve been struggling with putting my finger on a passage that reminds me most of Grandpa. There are so many Biblical characters he reminds me of. I’ve also been struggling with my feelings entering this new un-chartered territory and in those times I turn to the Psalms. Some may not know, but Grandpa loved himself some good old southern gospel music. One of the best gifts I ever got him was a Bill & Gloria Gaither box set for his birthday. Grandma rolled her eyes and said “Oh brother!” He liked to crank it good and loud. When the Lord brought me to Psalm 103, I couldn’t help but smile and rejoice because the music he is experiencing now is exceedingly, abundantly beyond Bill & Gloria live on the Grand Ole Opry stage on Easter Sunday….and even Grandma can’t tell him to turn it down!