If his life had been a movie, Clark Gable might have played the lead. They had the same look. Wryly handsome.
Born in 1926, my grandfather was a farm kid turned real estate entrepreneur. This is impressive considering he quit school somewhere between the ninth and 10th grade, back when that was still the thing to do. He had to help on the farm, after all.
He served in the Navy at the close of World War II. Faded black and white photos show a very handsome young man in uniform. He would marry at 21 and contribute to the baby boom by fathering two lovely children. One of them is my mother, the other my uncle. He served as a special deputy for many years as well. In all things, he was a hard worker and a family man.
In mid-life he married the love of his life and in doing so gave us our Granny — a sweet little redhead who we could not love more if she was biologically related to us. If you are not blessed with an Italian grandmother by birth, I highly recommend getting one by marriage.
Together, they operated a general store for a few years in a charming little town. I have a copy of the menu. A large pepperoni pizza was $1.75. Those were the days.
I remember being handed a brown paper bag and told to pick out the candy my little heart desired. That’s a lot of power for a preschooler. It was years before I realized that not everyone had access to their own candy aisle. Poor things.
They bought an RV roughly the size of a space shuttle and spent years traveling throughout the United States. They bravely took young grandchildren on vacation on the open road. It is a testament to his patience that we weren’t all left at a roadside rest stop with a note a time or two.
It is undoubtedly from him that I learned my love of camping — if by camping you mean an RV with hot water, central air, soft beds and a coffee pot. We want to see the sights. We don’t need to be savages about it.
For my entire life my grandfather was a calm, kind and absolutely delightful presence. If he ever disciplined me, I don’t remember it. I would like to think it was because I was an absolute angel, but I suspect that was not it at all.
He was gracious and generous to his family, and he and Gran were the consummate hosts. We spent endless hours at their sprawling farm for family gatherings and reunions. He doled out hugs and encouragement whenever we saw him. Anyone of his children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren will tell you that our grandpa hung the moon.
When he slipped away from earthly bounds last week, our world lost a crucial guidepost. On a warm and breezy afternoon, perfect for making hay while the sun shines (as a lifelong farmer would surely appreciate), we gathered to remember him. As if we could ever forget.
Amongst the socially-distanced hugs and masked smiles of the small gathering, Gran turned to me and said, sadly, “I just caught myself wanting to ask where Grandpa was.”
I understand. I don’t think they’ve been apart for any real measure of time for 50 years.
During the memorial, GirlWonder gave a speech, completely off the cuff, I might add, about how her great-grandparents lifelong love affair had set the bar high for her relationship goals. She brought out tears, and later, laughter, when she noted that her boyfriend should consider himself warned. Nothing less than a lifetime of devotion and adoration will do.
I stood up and told a fairly rambling tale of going along on one of the first camping trips when I was nine years old. We were cruising along the road in their motor home when suddenly there was the most clamorous roar.
Grandpa, eyes ahead, hands steady on the steering wheel, without braking, flinching or even reacting much, said, simply, “there go the steps.”
We had forgotten to pull in the camper steps and somewhere along the highway they had torn clear off and clattered away, never to be seen again.
I heard someone discuss that we were not, technically, Gran’s biological grandchildren. She said she could not love us more if we were. I believe her 100%.
My grandfather gave us his work ethic, sense of humor, adventure and memories. He also left us an amazing Granny to love while he’s gone.
Perhaps that is my grandfather’s greatest legacy. He left us with a reminder that family is more than blood. It is hearts and memories bound for life. Then as now he reminds us to stay calm, carry on and that in this family there are no steps.
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