My maternal grandfather, my last remaining grandparent, is in the process of transitioning out of this life and into the next. He’s 97, tired and ready to go, but at the same time, really afraid. When you think about it, I’m 40 (next month) and my mom is 68 (in June) so to have him around this long is kind of miraculous. All my other grandparents have lived well into their 90s, one great-grandparent to 101, so I have longevity in the genes, which is good, I guess. Not as good if no one around you does.
I didn’t really get to know Grandpa when I was a kid because we lived in Arizona and he lived in Oklahoma and when we went to Oklahoma, we really stuck around my dad’s family. My grandmother, (Liz, we called her, with as much contempt as you could muster) you see, was horrible. Not, “she won’t give me another cookie” horrible, but actually abusive, crazy, mean, violent horrible. My mom has all the signs of PTSD and her siblings are mostly looney, but any sanity and stability at all comes from my grandfather. When I was about 5 years old, we were visiting Oklahoma over the holidays and we went over to see my mom’s parents for the second time. The first time my grandmother was in a good mood. Not so much the second time. I was attempting to play with her as we had done the DAY BEFORE (what was I thinking?) and she apparently worked her way over to me in her wheelchair, grabbed me between her knees and started smacking me. My mom grabbed me and we didn’t see them for about a decade. I have no memory of this, thankfully.
I spent more time getting to know Grandpa starting when I was in high school and then in my 20s and 30s. My mom and I (and my brother a couple of times) started taking trips to Texas, where he now lives, every couple of years and she spent a lot of time talking to him on the phone. I got to know my Grandpa, hear his stories and see where I come from.
He and his family were kept alive during the depression because of the New Deal. He only had an eighth-grade education but took the civil service exam and got the top score. He and his family took a two-week road trip to Portland, OR from Oklahoma, in 1936. They had 2 cars, 8 people, and $400 and that got them through with gas, food & lodging. When my mom was 6 he lost his vision. At the time there were 4 kids in the house and they had 2 more before they were done. Plus, have I mentioned the horrible grandmother? They were on welfare, grew lots of their own food, sold some, and grandpa went from working as an engineer to selling newspapers and candy bars at the post office. He was one of the most popular guys in town. Everyone loved him. Most impressive, he still to this day has his checkbook balanced in his head at all times. Knows exactly how much he has and in what account. He dealt with all his candy & paper vendors by memory and tallied everything in his head. Never had debt. He kept more than one social worker from splitting up the kids and putting them in foster care because of my grandmother. And divorcing her was not something that even occurred to him because he knew he had to keep the kids together and that he had made a promise he intended to keep.
When he moved to Texas about 30 years ago, he did so because several of his kids went down there to work for Dow Chemical in Houston. He quickly established a community down there and had someone who came by to cut his hair, bring his meds, clean his house, and help him with his groceries. He loves old, old school country music and he even had one of the local djs giving him periodic on-air shout outs.
Grandpa kept his mind sharp by listening to audio books, particularly Louis L’Amour books and the Bible. He also “watched” movies by getting his face up close to the screen (he could see light, dark and shapes). His preferences was the Rock Hudson/Doris Day romantic movies of the 50s and 60s. He also loved music but preferred the old country music and standards. He said the stuff out there now just sounds like “something some guy wrote.” I really didn’t want to bother with that conversation, so I just nodded and sang Stardust for him again, one of his favorites.
Mom and I have gone out there by ourselves a couple of times and spent weekends with him. We would take him on errands, cook for him and sit around singing and reminiscing. I believe we have him telling some stories on video, which become more priceless as he slips away.
Just about 6 or so years ago, my grandfather told my mom something that he’d lived with his whole life. When he lost his vision, he went to a specialist who told him that the doctor he’d been seeing was, for all intents and purposes, a quack, and had Grandpa seen him 6 months earlier, he’d still have his sight. He lived with that knowledge for 57 years and not once did he complain about it, or even mention it. He accepted the hand that was dealt him and he made the best of it.
Now he’s nearing the end. It has not escaped my notice that I shifted from present to past while writing this. He is not long for this world. He is afraid. I have prayed for a very long time that he will pass quietly, painlessly, in his sleep and not suffer. I still hope that is the case. My parents are visiting him this weekend, and I hope he passes while with my mother. She wants to be there to comfort him so he knows he’s not alone.