At my grandpa’s funeral I saw family I hadn’t seen in many years, including cousins I hadn’t seen in over ten. I forgot my camera in the car and didn’t take a single picture that day and as family dispersed, some of us wished we had taken a group shot and had taken more pictures while we were all together because we hadn’t had that many of us in one place in such a long time. The pastor did an incredible job of describing my grandpa. Gentle and kind, with a way of making everyone feel welcome. That was him. He loved animals and he loved children. He loved reptiles and especially snakes, which he often rescued when he saw them in the road. There were things I didn’t know about him and I felt closer to him with everything I learned.
The pastor acknowledged that there were hard times too. And there were. His first wife died of leukemia and blended families, as many of us know, have their challenges. Throughout my visit, family members shared memories of my grandfather and I eagerly listened to everything they had to share, even if I had heard that particular story before. I was flooded with memories. My grandpa was a woodworker and I can still remember the way the cedar closet smelled that he built when I was young. My sister and I used to sit on the floor near his woodshop and, Elmer’s Glue in hand, would use his scrap pieces of wood to build dollhouses. (Or at least that’s what we called them.) I was told he kept those for many years afterwards.
I remember the shed he built and the magical bridge that went to the upstairs. It made the perfect place for us to play house. I remember his shelves of videos that he had taped that were impeccably organized. (Family also remembered how oftentimes the last ten or fifteen minutes of a movie would be missing, with the second one he had recorded overlapping it.) I remember his workout room and the hot tub where my sister and I used to pretend to be mermaids. I remember his bowl of oatmeal he ate each and every morning and his stories that began with: “back when I was an Indian.” (We wondered what tribe our family belonged to.) He was quite the storyteller, something my dad and uncle both share with him. I remember the insects he used to show us and the occasional snake, he had the wonder of a child when he showed us.
My Grandpa K had a good sense of humor and I know I loved his laugh, but I don’t really remember the sound of it now. I can only feel it. I wrote before about the stroke he had when I was a teenager. I remember the feeling of being around him and have many fond memories of our time together, but I wish I could better remember the sound of his voice. That I could better remember him. Even though I spent some time living with my grandparents when my sister and I were young, and we spent so much time together while I was growing up (living right down the street as we did), I feel like I don’t fully remember how he was before his stroke and I have always felt sad about that. (My grandpa had apraxia of speech after his stroke and I can somewhat understand the frustration he felt because of witnessing Bracken’s experiences.) I would love to be able to hear his voice one more time, to have one last conversation with him, to get to know him better, but I know what a gift my time with him was and I am truly grateful for the time we had together. He lived to be ninety years old and he had a long, full life.
There was sadness and there were tears during my visit, but mostly there was laughter. The night of his funeral a large crowd of his family members sat around in a circle, cracking jokes one after another. I don’t remember the last time I laughed so much in one night. I knew in my heart that there was nothing that would have made my Grandpa K happier than looking down at his family gathered around laughing together that night. I imagined him watching us with the biggest smile on his face. We started planning the next family reunion that evening and that would have made him very happy too, because those were very important to him and he had a big role in planning them.
My aunt and uncle opened up their home to everyone, like they always have, and there was quite a crowd. That night they had a record amount of people staying there. We had a slumber party for old time’s sake, just like my sisters, cousins, and I did there many summers. I loved watching Bracken enjoy many of the same things I did as a child while I was there, like the swing in the old oak tree. He also got to enjoy new things I never did- like driving the lawnmower around the place. My uncle showed him a tree frog they found in the yard, which was pretty much the coolest thing ever. Bracken got to hold it and then it jumped on his face and stayed there, making the experience even more memorable.
I spent so much time with all my grandparents growing up and I don’t think I could ever express the importance of my grandparents in my life. And I’m grateful for all the great grandparents that Bracken has been able to meet. Now all of the homes from my childhood no longer have my family members living in them, other families live there, except for my aunt and uncle’s house. Theirs is the last house from my childhood still occupied by family. My childhood memories are no longer present in a physical place I still return to, they’re simply with me. (My aunt and uncle’s house being the one exception.) Things change. Goodbyes are hard. Not the goodbyes to places really, but goodbyes to the people I love, like my Grandpa. During our trip we got to meet my sister’s best friend’s baby girl and there was much joy in that, which you can see in my sister’s expression. So there was new life celebrated during our trip as well. It was a trip filled with sadness, tears, joy, and laughter all mixed together. Such is life in it’s raw beauty.
Right when we first got to my aunt and uncle’s house Bracken jumped out of the car and started catching grasshoppers. We immediately saw a baby snake and it felt like my grandpa was saying hello. Bracken recruited anyone he could to help him gather hickory nuts and crab apples, his “treasures.” My stepmom collected milkweed pods for seeds to bring back to Oregon. We admired wildflowers and birdhouses. All the while, I couldn’t help but notice the many things my grandpa had passed down to us all, his family. Little things and big things, we each carry. And I loved seeing what they share in so many ways, my grandpa and my son, though they only met briefly a few times. I could just see Bracken running up to show his great grandfather the insect he caught and the tree frog he befriended. My grandpa would have loved it, and shared in his enthusiasm wholeheartedly.