Thursday, March 10, 2011

TALKING WITH GRANDPA

When I was young, very young, Grandpa use to talk to me all the time.  It was mostly tall tales that would be based on a little truth and a lot of over exaggeration but somehow he made them believable up to a point.   I was a teenager before I finally found out the true story of how he lost half of his finger and I had to learn that from one of my uncles.

As I grew older and into a young man, my talks with grandpa became more serious and more intent.  He would talk to me about history and the things he had seen..  He would talk about his philosophy of life and what he believed.  He would tell me of some of the things he went through growing up and some of the things he had experienced on the railroad with different people.  He spoke of truth and of non-truths, of honesty and dishonesty and why being truthful and honest may not seem to pay at the moment but in the long run it would pay huge dividends as to how people saw you and reacted to you.  He would be totally up front when he thought I was thinking wrong about issues and praise me when he thought I was thinking the correct way.  Without knowing it he gave me advice on life up until the last time I saw him.

The last time I saw him alive his lesson to me was that a gentleman always gave his seat to a lady if there were no other seats to be had.  He had done this by tricking me to get up off the couch to go look at a non-existent jacket of my Uncle Dan's so that my wife could sit in my place.  When Barb and I got in our car to go home that evening I told her it would be the last time we saw the old man.  He was going to Alabama to spend some time with my Aunt Sue and within a few weeks my parents came knocking on my door in the middle of the night to tell me he had passed away.  I felt as though my whole insides had been torn from me.  I still had plenty of mentors in my dad and all my uncles but grandpa was different.  Grandpa knew how to make a point.by making you think about what he was saying.  He was a true 20th century philosopher and renaissance man.

On the day of his funeral I sat in the car as everyone was leaving his grave site and saw that casket sitting there all by itself.  He was alone and it didn't feel right to me.  I told myself I would visit him often and I kept that promise for a long time.

On my visits to the cemetery I would walk up to the head stone and stare at his name and think about what I would be saying to him if he were there.  Almost every time once I made up my mind what to talk to him about and would mutter a question under my breath it seemed that he was suddenly with me.  I could hear his voice deep in my head and I knew what he would be saying in response to my statement or question.  Soon I would walk about the grounds and it felt as though he were walking beside me, stopping every once in a while to light his pipe and think.  As his death grew further into the past he began not to be there with me as much.  I would go and talk and find myself sitting there talking to a stone and answering my own questions.  Grandpa was fading from me.  I was losing him to my memory.

Times were changing and a lot of the things I wanted to talk to him about was not relevant to him.  He did not know about them as the events had happened after he had died.  When Grandma died it seemed like I lost him forever.  It was like they were finally together again and were making up for the lost time that death had separated them from each other.  I started stopping by the cemetery less and less and started to just say "hello" to them both as I drove past on Gregory Boulevard.  Pretty soon it became apparent to me that Grandpa was gone completely and Grandma had left with him.  No more talks with the old man.  No more wisdom from that mind of his that always thought in terms of fairness and honesty.

I felt like I was on my own and then I rediscovered my other mentors.  My dad was beginning to talk to me about things, not just small talk like he use to.  My Uncle Dan had moved to Kansas City and I developed a close relationship to him much like the relationship I had with grandpa when he was still here.  My uncle Jack began to talk to me as if I were an equal, an adult and we had lots of good talks about a lot of the same things grandpa had advised me on.  I was extremely lucky.  I had lost grandpa and had picked up three to take his place.  Things would not stay that way for long though.

Pretty soon as my dad aged his willingness or his ability to talk about anything other than how I was doing or how proud he was of grandchildren began to increase.  It was starting to be that I could know exactly how a conversation with dad would go if we were left alone to talk.  My uncle Dan was diagnosed with cancer and after living with HIV/AIDS for a miraculous period of time he eventually succumbed to death.  As for Uncle Jack his family had many challenges and are still facing them.  When Dan was in the process of dying I saw Jack every other week and was able to build a good relationship with him.  Since Dan passed, Jack has been staying in St. Louis to take care of his family as he should.  It seemed like just as quickly as I realized I had these three tools, I had lost them.

I have come to realize that I am on my own and I have a son who I hope looks up to me for advice int he same way I looked to dad and grandpa as well as Dan and Jack.  I do try to do my best with my son but sometimes I feel like I have no answers for him.  I feel like I have not learned the lessons of Dad and Grandpa well enough to be the men they were.  A lot of time I feel like I am failing at being a father but then every once in a while I'll hit one out of the park for the kid and rebuild my confidence.

Lately Grandpa has begun to visit me again.  He comes to me in the night when I am thinking over the days events at work or at home or thinking about issues that I have to face in day to day living.  It isn't me asking questions now and getting answers from him.  When he visits he asks questions and makes me come up with my own answers.  If the answer is halfway right he smiles approvingly and fades away again.  He has been showing up when I am by myself more often as of late.  It is so good to remember that stern look of concern and that smile that makes his eyes sparkle.  He still carries his pipe but it is never lit anymore.

Sometimes I go to bed with the anticipation that the old man will visit that night.  Sometimes he does but most nights he doesn't.  When he does visit though I find that I sleep a little easier with a little more confidence and security.  He may be gone, been gone for quite a few years now, but he will always reside in my mind and my heart.

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