Valentines day 2012 my heart was broken. A year later my wonderful Ryan came home, fully knowing I had no interest in Valentines day, with teddy bear in hand. I cried. We didn’t go out for dinner, we didn’t pop wine and celebrate our love. Instead, we celebrated another man’s love for me.
I was very close with my grandfather. I spent summers on the farm. I even have a funny story about how I got a calf’s head stuck in the fence at the neighbors dairy farm. My grandfather taught me to shoot a gun. He taught me to play dominoes – Mexican Train specifically – on the kitchen table in the 5th wheel. He taught me the word hornswoggle. (I had a knack for messing up his train.) But, most importantly, he showed me a lot of love.
My grandfather – like many in his generation – was a patriarch. He ran his family. He owned his own business. Wherever he lived he was a member of the local sportsman’s club. Raced in the Michigan Modified Stock Car races in his 20s. He loved moving the chains at the small town high-school football games. He had a big heart. When he retired and was living in Arizona he enjoyed square dancing. Often going to the hall to be an “angel” where he would dance with the widows. My grandmother didn’t mind, it gave him a lot of joy to be there for people. My grandmother was by his side until the day he passed. His children loved him deeply.
I had a relationship with my grandfather I never had with my dad. My relationship with my dad was a struggle. I was angst filled and rebellions, I was also the baby of the family and easily the most emotional, impulsive, child he had. But, my time with my grandfather was always an adventure. Sitting there playing dominoes could be an adventure. Hiking in the mountains of Arizona was an adventure. Challenging him to reruns of the match game was an adventure.
Like many grandfathers he was in the service, a Navy man. He wasn’t the kind that stormed beaches or flew planes. He was a mechanic who saw the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. He was a quite country boy who got a job at a garage in the 1950s, who’s boss told him to drive the young new teacher’s bus for a lady’s basketball game. The new teacher was my grandmother.
He never proposed to my grandmother on bended knee. One day he came bounding in her apartment eagerly to tell her he bought “them” a truck. She asked Why?! He simply said, We have your car, so I traded my older one in for a truck. As far as my grandma can remember that was his proposal – because some weeks later he asked how the wedding planning was going. Well, we’ll want a fall wedding. They had a fall wedding. Setting the date between duck and deer season so guests wouldn’t miss the opening of either.
My grandfather owned an excavating company. He designed and constructed the water treatment system in a mid-Michigan town – much of his plan is still there today. He would be the first one up in the morning for a barn raising because the local Mennonites couldn’t use machinery. So he’d clear the debris from the fire earlier in the week.
His generation, the men that continued to build on this country, are the men we women love. They took charge of their home. They set their plans in motion. They loved their wives deeply and for the entirety of their lives.
It’s not that my father doesn’t love my mother deeply or lead his family – he does – but my father is from a different generation. A quieter, perhaps softer one. I love my father, this isn’t a dig on him. I’m sure there will be a night where I sit up late and blog about my awesome but very nerdy dad. But my grandfather has always had a huge place in my heart.
When people tell you you marry someone like your father I look at Ryan and I see that – but I also see my grandfather. My husband is a wonderful mix of the two best men in my life. He’s soft spoken and chooses his words very carefully like my father. Where he doesn’t say much at the dinner table but when he does talk it’s important, wise, and purposeful. But like my grandfather Ryan is an engineer, a mechanic, gears and all things that move interest him. The simple quiet life in the country eases his soul. His knuckles are greasy and his hands are scarred.
Sadly, Ryan didn’t really know my grandfather, by the time they met the grandfather I’m talking about here was gone. A shell of a man who – on his good days would talk to you about his Arizona women’s soft ball team or Michigan State Football, about his Navy buddies who went to the same university I ended up at. On his bad days he would say almost nothing. I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t go home much once he was in that nursing home. I was scared to see him like that. The Parkinson’s had taken the man I knew.
Valentines day, I’m at work. My mother texts Papa is not doing well today, we think he’ll pass very soon. I quickly responded I’d be home that weekend. I had been home two weeks earlier for my birthday, it was a good day he had been very talkative. That will be too late, she responded. I was shocked, what do I do, what do I say? I went to my boss I have to go, now. I worked only a few miles from my house and I plopped down on the couch numb. Ryan joined me on the couch within the hour. I paced the house for twenty minutes before finally saying Let’s Go.
Worst 90 minute drive of my life. We were silent the whole way. I just clung to Ryan’s hand. As we were pulling off the freeway into town my father called Are you going to the nursing home or here first? Oh, to the house first. Good, see you soon. Click. What the heck dad? What was that? That was the sound of me missing my grandfather. I got out of the car in the driveway and turned to see my mom. She just shook her head and I hugged her. She was very much a daddy’s girl. And he was our world.
My grandfather was the kind of man that protected his family. Even in the end. The nurses told us this happens often, but even though they anticipated him going that day it wasn’t until my aunt had left the room, went home to get lunch, that he passed. He wasn’t going to go with them there, but he knew his time had come. In the end he still protected his daughters.
A year later Ryan comes home with this grey teddy bear. I named him Charles after my grandfather. He’s my safety blanket when my husband is gone or I’m not feeling well. He’s the only stuffed animal allowed on the bed.
I’m grateful to have found a man that embodies both my father and my grandfather. Through Ryan, my children will know the qualities I loved about Papa. The adventure for motorcycles and hiking in the mountains. The drive to create and the passion to build.
Valentines day is a day to celebrate love. My grandfather’s love is worth celebrating.