Two weeks ago, my grandfather passed away. He was 96, lived an incredible life, was kind, optimistic, and gave the best hugs. I don’t have a single bad memory of him. He was a constant source of goodness in my life, and though I still feel a deep sense of connection with him even now, I will miss his presence terribly.
When my brother and I were kids, we’d ride our bikes to his and Grandmother’s house. Sometimes we’d spend the night, and when I was small their simple, three-bedroom, two-bath house somehow felt like a mansion. They always had ice cream on hand. And in the summer, they had air conditioning! One of my fondest memories was actually a somewhat regular occurrence. Granddad was always the first to wake up, a trait he held onto from his days as a journalist and newspaper editor. I was the second to wake up, and I’d come out of my room still in my PJ’s, following the smell of coffee into the kitchen where Granddad would be sitting at the table, looking dapper even in his bathrobe, absorbed in the newspapers spread out before him. It was always a quiet scene and sometimes I’d be shy about interrupting his peaceful morning, but then he’d look up, see me, and stop what he was doing to say, “Well good morning Jessica! Want some cereal?” He was so cheerful and before I could even answer he had risen from the table to go towards the cabinet that held the cereal. There was never a chance for me to wonder for a second if I had bothered him. He made a place for me at the table, where I’d sit across from him and read my own section of the newspaper as he returned to his. Depending on my age, my reading of choice ranged from the comics, to the lifestyle section, to international news (never national news – that was sooooo conventional). I’m sure he was reading every section of the paper, spotting details I’d never see, and enjoying the business section, financial section, and letters to the editor the most.
One summer day I sat with Granddad at a Five Guys along with my family. After our burgers & fries had been devoured, he recounted stories of when he was Public Relations & Personnel Director of the newspaper. He had tears in his eyes at one point as he recalled the responsibility of caring for employees during a particularly challenging time. I remember thinking I wished everyone could have people like him in HR.
When my poetry book came out, he bought copies for his friends in the retirement community where he lived. I told him I’d gladly give him some, but he insisted on buying them himself. Shortly after, I was showing him a new poem I’d just written, and at one point he exclaimed, “What a line!” I can’t remember which line it was, I just know that having Granddaddy as my fan meant more to me than any amount of good reviews from anyone.
We held a gathering last week to honor Granddad’s life. We booked an art gallery (he loved good art), brought in a caterer, served food & wine (he loved good food & good wine), set out photographs of him throughout the decades, & invited friends and family to drop in for an informal social event to celebrate him. For two hours I had the privilege of hearing people talk to me about what Granddad meant to them. A common theme in what everyone said was that he was “the kindest man”, “always a gentleman”. I got to hear about how he brought his neighbor’s mail to her, how he wasn’t shy to raise a ruckus about things that were, in fact, ridiculous (like when a certain hiring committee didn’t have a single female candidate on their list – he was aghast at this), & how just two months ago he held captive an audience of journalism students at the local university as he regaled stories from his own days as a journalist. However privileged they all felt to have known him doesn’t compare to the privilege I had to be his granddaughter.
When each of my Grandmothers died, he hugged me and said “Remember the good times”. I’m thankful he taught me how to do this. It’s helping me so much right now.
I think Granddaddy genuinely inspired people to do the right thing, be generous, be realistically optimistic, and make good decisions. But I just want to be back at that kitchen table with him again, me in my PJ’s slurping cereal, him in his crisp robe drinking coffee and poring over the morning papers.