Two weeks ago today the girls and I were visiting my grandfather and his friend Jean in Boynton Beach, Florida. We left on a Thursday; the following Saturday night, he fell and broke his leg for the third time. After the fall, Grandpa was lucid and healthy enough that my dad and his brother agreed to try surgery. But after the operation, it was clear his time had come. He died this morning.
Elisa Vanina and Ellsworth Dilger
November 22, 1944
And so it happens that I have no living grandparents. It’s amazing to say that for the first time, as I look forty square in the eye. I grew up with four grandparents living about an hour away. Even as a kid, I knew that was unusual. Plenty of my friends had grandparents die before they finished high school, or even before they were born. My father’s mother, who you can see above, died in September 2000, meaning that I was 29 before I had a grandparent die. In fact, Erin’s maternal grandmother Blanche (Nana) is still alive, though unfortunately her quality of life is limited by severe dementia and memory loss.
Memories cross with imagination. Last January, on a previous visit to Grandpa, I ran by my other grandparents’ house, where my mother and her parents lived for many years. Much about it looked exactly the same as always. I stopped and stood in the road and considered walking up to the door and ringing the bell. For a moment I thought my Papa would answer, shouting “Hello Brad!” and shaking my hand before hugging me, like he always did. My grandmother, whistling her “Woo-hoo” call in the background. And we’d go to the back of their house, and sit in the kitchen with the glass doors open for the breeze, and have strong, hot coffee in little cups. Or a beer, ice cold, pulled from the very back of the fridge. And my grandmother would ask Erin and I the same questions she always did, and my Papa would roll his eyes a little.
I can play the same game for my fathers’ parents: arriving in south Florida after driving from Gainesville. The little white house like all of the others. My grandpa in his chair, with the remote on one arm, and the crossword puzzle on the other. My grandma in the kitchen, or in the chair next to his. The house full of amazing food: sausage cooling in a pot on the stove, something in the oven, cookies in the jar, more things waiting in the fridge. Pouring a glass of wine and trying to get grandma to sit down for a minute. Erin and I sitting on the floor next to her chair and waiting for her to snap at my grandfather. “Are you ever gonna shut up?” she’d ask. And he’d smile and go right on talking, and she’d remember something she had to do in the kitchen.
Yes, I feel loss today. But I have more to celebrate. From my past, rich memories of time spent with Elisa, Mabel, George, and Ellsworth. For the present and future, the bond Madelyn and Amelia have made with Bits, Eric, Richard, and Sandra. I hope to remember my grandparents well by ensuring my girls grow up with theirs.