My grandfather passed away last night. He led an incredibly long, full life - and while this wasn't surprising, it's certainly sad.
Remember this picture?
Remember this picture?
This is me and my grandfather - Robert. And his new puppy, Joey, if you can just see her sitting between us. I'm about two years old (1986). And I love this picture. There's so much of my good memories wrapped up in here. This is absolutely the picture I have in my mind when I think of my grandfather.
My brother and I had a unique relationship with our grandparents. We didn't have the "typical"grandparental relationship where we saw each other a couple times of year, or a couple times a month. Since both of my parents worked full time, the stars aligned and my grandparents were willing and able to watch me & Eric before and after school. Every day. From before I can remember, until we moved apart when I was 13.
This led us to have a much deeper, closer relationship with our grandparents. Not only did we spend before/after school with them, but summers as well. That's a lot of time to get to know someone.
I learned so much from both of my grandparents - I feel really blessed to have as much time with them as I did.
I can still remember every inch of their house in Phoenix.
Even though they lived in the middle of the city, with a desert front yard - my grandpa had so many amazing things growing in his garden in the back yard. (Like a secret garden!) He had a side yard that was chalk-full of delicious veggies - mostly tomatoes. Note: There is nothing better than a home grown tomato. He also had a few trees in the backyard - tangelo (still my favorite citrus), plum, & apricot. AND he planted grapevines along the back fence, and often planted strawberries under each of the trees! Now - just imagine being a small child when all of that comes into season. The collecting, sampling, washing, and eating… it was like a magical haven. He made a point to include me and answer questions. I never remember him being out of patience. He was always so willing to share and make sure I got my fill.
The other special place my grandpa had was the garage. For the most part, the garage was used as a workshop filled with woodworking tools. The smell of sawdust was ever-present. One of my favorite all-time things to do was to "help" by sweeping off the tools and making sure they were clean. I have no idea if that was actually helpful - but grandpa was more than willing to have me in there! He was so talented with wood. He built amazing pieces of art and furniture. For awhile, he and my mom also created toys! Talking to my brother last night, he of course remembered the pop guns. Way fun, but maybe a little annoying to an older sister. ;) They also created a variety of other things to play with, and I know we traveled a bit to various markets to sell them. Pretty incredible.
Let me tell you one more thing about my grandparents - they were always so willing to open their home and share their hospitality. There was never a hesitation about bringing friends over (unless we were trying to dodge doing homework). There were always welcomes. Always snacks. Always a great place to be. They encouraged us to be outdoors. To play. To use our imaginations. To read.
Thinking back, I just remember being really lucky to have two homes when I was little. Grandma/Grandpa's house, and our house. We went to the schools by my grandparents' house, but came home to our house. Pretty amazing.
When I was about 13, things changed. My parents chose to move us across town, and right around the same time my grandparents moved out of the city up to their property. Lots changed, all at once. I remember at the beginning, being awfully sad to be away from my grandparents. It was a transition, that's for sure.
The cool part about the move? Going from a regular sized house/yard to 40 acres! My brother and I spent just about every summer up on the property. And one of the best parts (in my opinion) was being part of the change from pioneer-esque beginnings to a fully powered/equipped homestead.
At the beginning, we had to haul water and power with a generator. Over time, power lines were routed and a well was dug. But those first summers were kind of cool - kind of figuring things out in a different way than we used to. Relying more on our imaginations than computers/TV. Exploring the property - and beyond. We were close enough to the Little Colorado River to go exploring and on long walks with the dogs.
Grandpa had more room up there to create a GIANT garden and a GIANT barn. There was actually quite an event to raise the barn! But now, he had much more room (and perhaps much more challenge) to indulge his love of growing. This garden had it all. Grapes, corn, herbs, onions, tomatoes, beans, peas, strawberries… fruit trees too, but they weren't mature enough to produce for awhile. It was pretty incredible, and a partnership between families to grow some of the best-tasting produce around.
He also had a ton more room in the barn to do his thing. He slowed down a bit with the woodworking, but also had a lot more to occupy him in general. The property had a lot to manage and improve. Over time, a deck was built behind the house. Trees were planted along the road. An addition was built onto the house.
We had a lot of freedom, but also expectations and responsibilities. Jobs/chores, but also explanations and feedback that nurtured that intrinsic sense of motivation/value/pride. That's a pretty incredible life lesson.
Every night during the summer we had a family dinner. Full of veggies from the garden, yummy food, and conversation. Grandpa also liked to have something sweet for dessert - another time to come together and talk before we went to bed. He was always interested, and always asked us questions.
My grandparents had animals - at first, an old cat and a younger dog brought with them from Phoenix. During one of the first summers, we also adopted two puppies - and they were pretty much given into my care! Talk about being in heaven. I fed them, potty trained them, played with them, napped with them… Pretty much spent every moment (waking and sleeping) with those pups. One of the best memories I have.
|Grandpa, Alex & Tigger, 2004|
What am I carrying with me from my grandparents? So much love. So many experiences. Such support and encouragement. So many big memories, and so many tiny memories. Every day memories. Special holiday memories. Momentous, growing up memories. So much of what helped me become - me.
My mom and I were talking. Of course this sucks for us - we loved him so much. It's hard to let go. But this is just as it's meant to be. He's with grandma again - his person. His partner, his love. He passed away before his children. This is absolutely the way of life. And with such a long, full, life - who could ask for more?
This grief isn't shocking. His passing isn't completely unexpected. But it hurts. And it's a reminder. Of time passing. Of the seasons of life. Of being the person you're meant to be. Of soaking up all the moments with your people - loving them as much and as hard and as openly as you can. Because when everything comes down to the end, that's really the important stuff.
I wish I was more eloquent. That I could say better all of the things I feel in my heart. But this is better than nothing - and I'll just keep working on it.