On May 12th, my grandfather lost a 10 year battle with severe emphysema. His death has taken the wind out of my sails in a lot of respects.
Eventhough it was inevitable, I still feel as though he was ripped from my grasp. I can only imagine how my mother feels. I’m 3 hours away, and she still lives in the now empty house we and my grandparents called home for 13 years.
My grandfather really stepped up to the plate when my parents divorced and became my father as well. He was an amazing man and a great role model. He was honest, steadfast, and full of depression-era frugality and wisdom that was an endless source of entertainment.
My grandpa was the oldest born into a poor oklahoman family in the midst of the depression. He used to tell this story about how he used to lure their neighbor’s chickens into their yard with a trail of corn, so grandpa could kill them and the family could eat.
When he was 17, he lied about his age to get into the military because his parents couldn’t afford to feed him anymore. He wanted nothing more than to be a pilot, but a tragic drunk driving accident at the hands of his father left him with a caved in chest and missing half a lung. The airforce wouldn’t make him a pilot.
However, he was stationed peacekeeping in japan in the early 50s. He always talked about how much fun it was. He repeatedly told me the only japanese words he learned were “beer” and “women”. He had a photo album of his time in japan, that my grandmother made him hide because it was just him with tons and tons of different ladies.
Alcoholism ran in his family, and until my grandfather gave up booze when my mom was little, he got into all sorts of hijinks. My favorite story was after he (and most of his family) had moved to california. My grandpa was an ambulance driver in southern cali when he and my grandma met. Unable to put down the bottle, he would often drive the ambulance drunk. Once he circled the hospital 5 times with someone in the back because he was so drunk he forgot where he was/how to get into the hospital.
My grandparents met because grandpa’s hospital was near my grandmother’s house. My grandmother’s two sisters were walking home, saw my grandpa and his partner and thought they were unbeleivably hot, so they drug my grandma out to see. My grandma started actively pursuing my grandpa, but he wasn’t interested. She waited through several of his girlfriends before he gave her a chance.
After they were married, when my grandmother was pregnant with my mom, my grandpa was sent to weekend jail for his massive amount of parking tickets. He went one weekend and immediately had his job transfer him to another plant outside the state to avoid serving the 2 years of weekend jail he had left. He was transferred to southern georgia, and he and my grandma packed up and drove to georgia in the middle of the summer, in a car with no air conditioning. Grandpa said that they had a little bucket with dry ice that hung in the window for a/c. When they were driving through texas, they were literally the last car on a stretch of highway. After they crossed this barrier, the road was literally blow up behind them.
They settled in a small town, raised their children (and some of their grandchildren), and busied themselves with more mundane things. I’ll always remember my grandmother bent over her sewing machine or painting and the quiet times I had with my grandfather at 3am sharing a cup of coffee, right before I went to bed and right after he woke up.