My gruff old grandpa, sometimes I still feel a bit sad about how much I misunderstood him. But when your a kid you don't understand a lot of things.
Grandpa, he was a mean old cuss, or so I thought. He shuffled, always seemed to anyway. He usually wore golf shirts and some type of old guy jeans that always seemed to be sagging in the bottom. He wore a belt and leather shoes, his hair was always combed and he shaved with blue disposable razors. He wore Allspice cologne/aftershave in fact my dad does as well, mom sticks it in his sock every year at Christmas, he's probably got about 10 bottles in the cupboard.
Grandpa was always looking out for us, "Get down from there, ya hear!" It always made me mad, I thought that it was perfectly safe to be climbing up ladders leaning high against the house, or to walk along the cement wall that bordered the stairs to the basement. The 30 foot drop just made it more thrilling, didn't he notice my terrific balancing skills?
We would keep away from Grandpa because he would pinch sometimes when you passed, he would grab you in the Bear Trap and you couldn't get out unless you repeated a nursery rhyme, my dad did the same thing except we would purposefully mess up the nursery rhyme to get tickled.
Grandpa had a beautiful boat at one point, I loved to sneak up on it and look under the blue tarp to smell the commingling of fish and leather and imagine myself driving the boat. This was done under the extreme threat of being caught by Grandpa which made it all the more thrilling.
We got to go out on it once, Grandpa bought beautiful child sized life vests for us. I sat in the middle, away from the edge, guarded by my mom and dad lest we got too close to the water. Grandpa sold the boat after that, I always felt jipped by this.
I had wished that Grandpa was different, one of those Grandpas that played games and hugged, but Grandpa was dealing with his own private scars. He was a veteran from WWII, he received two difficult wounds, two purple hearts and kept a souvenir of shrapnel in his hip for the rest of his life.
After Grandma passed away he was left a shell, a lifeless empty person. He sat at the kitchen table everyday, spat on the floor, soiled himself, his house stank after that. The only thing that he would perk up about was his cat, he would talk about his cat, he was afraid to lose his cat. Poor kitty, Grandpa wouldn't let him out, although strangely enough though the cat escaped several times he would eventually come back again, it made the cat a bit wild to be cooped up like he was.
I used to go up to Grandpa's to clean, it was hard for me. Grandpas spirit permeated the house, though he stayed at the table. I could almost feel the spirit of my Grandmother crying over him, over his palpable depression. It was hard to know what to say to Grandpa, how to deal with him, I was so young anyway and formerly scared of him, like I said.
Eventually though I just came to a point where I decided to just love him, despite it all, despite my fear, despite the smell of his house. I started to give him hugs and a kiss on his rough whiskery cheek, I told him that I loved him.
Eventually, not too long before he died, his eyes teared up for me, he hugged me, he looked at me sincerely and told me that he loved me, words that I never thought to hear. I sat in my car and cried afterward grateful that the miracle had happened.
Dad took him in that week to have surgery on a hernia that had been hurting him for so long, that's partly why it was hard for him to make it to the bathroom. The operation was too much and he passed away, home to Grandma.
The loss meant a great deal to me, I felt it profoundly where I might not have if I had not been more involved with his care. I felt in my heart that he wanted a certain hymn to be sung at his funeral "Our Saviors Love," it kept repeating through my head over and over. The same thing had happened with my Grandmothers funeral, she wanted "The Battle Hymn of The Republic."
I cried, and I laughed because I learned that my Grandpa had a wry sense of humor. One story from a good friend of his "Pat (his nickname) and I worked at the steel mill together, he would bang the steel as it rolled off the belt, we sat to lunch together every day. Well one day he just up and threw his sandwich up against the wall saying "I've had it no more bologna for me." Well one of us told him to just ask his wife to make something else. So Pat says 'I make my own (darn) lunches.'" Grandpa was a character to say the least.
I never knew growing up that he cared anything about me. Mom told me that he sold the boat because he was afraid my dad would take us on it and one of us would drown. Now I see that he cared a great deal over us and worried a lot. In fact I was watching an old home video with us kids doing the circuit on our trikes around the driveway and as I pass he patted my head... Grandpa, not like those other Grandpa's who play games and do cheery things with you, but the old cuss loved us. I love him too.