Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Days beyond memory

Ninety years ago today, this man was born. He grew extraordinarily quickly. By the time he was five, he looked several years older than his younger brother who was a mere 18 months younger. By the time he was in high school, he had the nickname Spider for his remarkably long limbs. Before he was through, he was 6'8" tall. And his brother only 6.' Their parents were tall for that day, but nothing would have prepared them for a child this size, a boy who could eat and eat and eat. He grew up during the Depression which made him appreciate food all the more. Being a "clean-plater" is something he taught his children, who taught their children.

I've thought a lot over the years about the things this man taught his children. He's my father-in-law, you see. And he raised a very good man to father our children. Grampie grew up in a working class home with a dad who had high expectations. Those expectations meant earning money in those lean years--not playing sports, and definitely NOT going to college. But this Spider of a man was born not only with the gift of height but the gift of athleticism to go with it. And when the high school basketball coach talked him into trying out for basketball, Grampie did. It changed his life. Up until then Grampie expected that he'd graduate high school and get a job at the shipyard. But this man believed in Grampie, coached him (and his teammates) to a state championship, and took him around to universities to watch college teams play. Grampie's own dad had no use for such nonsense. He never watched a single game his son played, in high school or at the University of Oregon where he was an All-American.

But Grampie became a great dad. He became a dad who encouraged his kids. He went to most of their games, and when he couldn't, he'd get up and fix Beve food after long bus-ride and away games. And when they grew up, had their own families and made decisions Grampie might not have agreed with, he simply listened and accepted. I've always loved that about him. He just let his kids be free to be themselves. I think it was because his own dad was so judgmental and disapproving, but he's the most accepting man I know. He was kind and generous and loving and accepting of everyone he came in contact with. You just have to look at his Christmas cards to know that. But primarily, he was a great dad.

And the best Grandpa too. "Grandpa here," he used to say when he called. Sometimes he called several times a day because he hadn't talked to all of the kids, and had something he needed to tell one of them. Or each of them. And he must have single-handedly kept the post-office in business in the little town when he lived before we moved him to our city. He probably sent us (and all the others in the family) something just about every day. A note, a clipping, and always--ALWAYS!--he included a picture that he'd printed at Staples. Sometimes he even sent them in frames he'd bought at the dollar store. Picture it: a grainy copy of a photograph cropped and labeled and framed for our enjoyment. We'd laugh because many times he'd sent us a picture we'd sent him.

That was just one of the things we noticed in those days. There were many changes, extra phone calls to tell us the same thing repeatedly.

And now those days seem a long ways away. I can't remember how long ago it was that we first noticed those signs, but these days, there isn't much of the old Grampie left. Sometimes he has good days. They're few and far between, however. Most of the time, he lives in a fog between naps and sleep. The only person he knows without fail now is this man:
Beve took this 'selfie' Sunday on one of Grampie's good days. I'm not sure Grampie knew why he was smiling, but it's a great picture. I love it of the two of them. Grampie is one of Beve's greatest joys in life. That he gets to have these final days with his dad, even when his dad is so barely there, is a blessing.

We are amazed that Grampie is 90 years old today, that he has lived so long a life and seen so much of the world. His world is tiny now, but he continues to teach us. Even now he teaches us how to live final days, days beyond memory, with grace and kindness.


M said...

Oh man, I think I'll just spend this whole day missing him.

Pamela M. Steiner said...

What a beautiful tribute to your father in law. He sounds like such a great man in so many ways...not just in physical stature. And that picture is one you should definitely frame and treasure! Yes, enjoy these days in every way you can. All too soon you will look back and long to hear his voice again, regardless of whether or not he remembers who you are. Thank you for giving us a glimpse of a person who is so very special to you. We are blessed now too, for that knowledge.