My Grandpa John lived for many years in a rented room in a building where everyone shared the bathroom and the kitchen. It always smelled like ripe bananas. We’d usually visit him there after church on Sundays. He used to collect his change in an empty pop can with the top cut off and once, when it was full, he let me have it. I sat and counted the coins while he and my dad talked about Jerry Falwell and Jack Van Impe and the impending End of the World. I think I remember it well because that talk used to scare me so much.
My grandpa always had office supplies, like mechanical pencils and retractable erasers, that he’d give me at church so I could write on the bulletin when I’d get antsy during the service. He told me there was no Santa Claus. He gave me the Barbie Townhouse for Christmas. He always said my name when he was talking to me. Some people, when they’re familiar, stop using names. It’s “her” or “she” or “honey” or “sweetie.” He always said my name and I liked that. It made me feel visible and grown up.
My Grandpa John passed away from Alzheimer’s recently at the age of 91. I hadn’t seen him in more than seven years. He lived alone most of his life and near the end – even before Alzheimer’s – visitors made him uneasy. The last time I was with him was when Julia was eight months old. We had gone to visit him and he held her. He still had my school pictures hanging near his calendar, like he always had. He never got to meet my other children and Julia certainly doesn’t remember that brief moment in his arms, but they all traveled to Pennsylvania to pay their respects at his funeral last week.
Dave and I tried to make the trip as comfortable as possible for them. We stayed at a hotel – here’s Jack at The Holiday Inn Express.
(I mention it by name, not because I’m getting paid, but because they were so good to my family and me – even when Bee pushed the emergency button in the elevator.)
They had a pool that we had all to ourselves due to the timing of our stay.
The kids had fun swimming and meeting family that up until then they’d only heard about, especially their cousin.
I took them to see the house I lived in when I was their age.
If Julia were me, she’d be getting ready to move from that home in about one month, which was one of the defining moments in my life.
Though we did a number of things while we were there, the reason for the trip wasn’t lost on the kids. There were a lot of questions about life and death and family, even before the funeral. It was an emotionally draining trip. I’m just grateful that they could join me in saying goodbye to a man they didn’t get to know, but who is very much a part of them.