My last grandparent died early this morning, my mom's dad, my Grandpa R. He was the last of his generation on that branch of my family tree. He would have been 93 years old on Valentine's Day. He was awesome.
Ask anyone who knew him and they will speak of his kindness, how pleasant he was to be around, his glass-half-full attitude. Until his health began failing in earnest a few years ago he was up for pretty much any adventure, however big or small.
When I was little, he and Grandma had this old dog, Snoopy. To this day I'm not sure whether Snoopy was male or female because Grandpa referred to all dogs as "she". It's just something he did. Grandpa would walk Snoopy and me down to the playground about a block away from his house. My parents, brother and I lived in the semi-rural suburbs and I thought that was so fancy and urban, to have a playground a block away from your house. To have sidewalks to walk on in order to get there instead of running through your neighbor's front ditch. There was a concrete tube on the playground and Snoopy and I would crawl in and out of that tube, over and over. No matter how many times we crawled in there, Grandpa was always waiting for us at the other end. He would push me on the swings and swing me on the merry-go-round and then we'd walk home and he'd take me down to the basement for a Fresca and some Beer Nuts. There was a bar in the basement, see, a real one with barstools and everything. My brother and two oldest cousins and I would sit on those stools and sip our sour Frescas and feel SO grown up, waving pretzel rods and sticks around like they were cigars and cigarettes. Such glamor. Such decadence. It was the '70s.
When the movie Saturday Night Fever came out, Grandma and Grandpa were ALL ABOUT the disco. I have a vivid memory of teaching Grandpa "The Hustle" and "The Monorail" at his request in the tiny downstairs of our little triplex. He had bought the soundtrack to the movie and played it on my dad's stereo as we painstakingly went through all the steps. I realize I may be biased, but I am pretty sure my grandpa was a thousand times cooler than your grandpa.
Most people who knew him knew that he was a WWII veteran and a retired mailman, a father of three and grandfather of 10, a widower who loved reading the newspaper and feeding the birds. But not everyone knew that he went to a one-room schoolhouse as a kid, that he earned money for his family during the depression by picking berries (in the process getting sunburns that would come back to haunt him decades later), that he buried dozens of fallen fellow servicemen along the Burma Road in World War II. That he still grieved for those men long after their bones had turned to dust. That he missed his mother every day from the day she died until the day he died. Ditto his wife, my grandmother.
Not everyone danced The Hustle with him or heard him sing "Old Man River" in a rich baritone or held his hand while walking down a scorching city sidewalk. Not everyone got to meet him at the mall on his lunch hour and see his spiffy security guard uniform. Not everyone got to play poker and Skip-Bo with him, to drink Fresca and eat potato chips in his basement. Not everyone got to hear him sing along while they plinked out a halting tune on the piano. Not everyone got to call him Grandpa. We were so lucky, my brother and cousins and I.
Rest in peace, Grandpa. I suppose it's fitting that the biggest football fan I ever knew should die on Superbowl Sunday. I'm only sorry your beloved Cleveland Browns never made it to the big show during your lifetime. If they had, I know you would have been first in line for a commemorative cap.