A Great Man Remembered

August is bittersweet for me. It's my birthday month....sweet. It was also my grandfather's birthday month...bittersweet. As I pulled the milk out of the fridge this morning, I happened to read the expiration date, August 26. I thought of my grandfather for two reasons. August 26th was his birthday, and it was also his anniversary. He told me he got married on his birthday because there was no better birthday present than to start his life with the woman he loved. That makes me smile. In fact, there aren't many thoughts about my grandfather that don't make me smile.

He was an all-around amazing man.

Grandpop was born in Baltimore, a typical city kid. He excelled at everything he ever attempted from baseball with the neighborhood hooligans to solving nearly-impossible math problems without a college education or the use of a calculator in the middle of combat during WWII. He was a deeply feeling person, the first man I saw shed tears while telling a story. He was willing to talk about his time in the Philippines during the war, and remembered every detail like it was yesterday. Though clearly a math & science-type person, he had a deep love for Shakespeare, which prompted a curiosity in me, and allowed me to appreciate his works myself at a young age. He was an amazing craftsman, and there is no telling how many people's homes are now adorned with one of his many hand-crafted clocks. He made comebacks from just about every type of physical ailment a grown man can have, and I attribute that partly to his good health in his older years, but mostly to his stubbornness.

The nightly ritual at my grandparents' house included the $64,000 pyramid, Wheel of Fortune, and Jeopardy. Grandpop always knew the answers...or at least more than I could ever hope to know. (Grandmom wasn't too bad at it herself.) He was grumpy, but he'd earned the right to be. You did not want to enter into a debate with my grandfather. If you went to his house during the day, he was undoubtedly listening to Rush Limbaugh on the radio. He chopped his own firewood into his 70's. The man's work ethic was unbelievable. He had an affinity for budgets and thriftiness. As a result, he was a frequent and [very] active participant in our church business meetings. He seemed to always know the absolutes of right and wrong. His clothes rarely matched, and he didn't care. It was one of his quirks. He probably had a lot of them. Though I know he loved all of his grandsons just as much, I would catch him looking at his granddaughters while they were doing nothing in particular at all with a smile on his face, and often a chuckle. Little girls held a special place in his heart.

When my grandmother got sick, he was by her side every second he possibly could be. For years. When she finally lost her battle with congestive heart failure, a part of his own heart was gone forever. Grandmom was his pulse. She was his "Patsy"...a nickname he had randomly come up with for her in their early dating life, though her name was Louise Anna. I know he was lonely after she was gone, but he didn't stop living. He learned how to use a computer, emailing me while I was away at college, even downloading songs that reminded him of Grandmom, and he took over where Grandmom left off in the kitchen, often experimenting with new recipes (that he'd probably found on the internet or seen on Food TV).

One of the highlights of his life, post-Grandmom, was when some young gun tried to swindle him out of some cash. The man was a professional and called my grandfather from the airport. Grandpop asked if it was the Lieutenant calling (my grandfather's nickname for my brother-in-law, Jonathan...he had a nickname for everyone). The man took that and ran with it, telling him that he was a friend of the Lieutenants'. That Jonathan had asked him to call Grandpop because he needed some cash for some reason or another...a lot of it. Hundreds of dollars. I don't remember the exact sum or the particulars of the story (my memory isn't even a fraction as sharp as my grandfather's was). Long story short, my grandfather smelled a rat. The best part is that he beat the swindler at his own game. He told the man, "Sure, come on over to the house...I'll have the money ready for you." Then he promptly called my father and the police. It was a regular old stakeout. My father and uncle were hiding inside the house. The police were there in various locations. They arrested him on the spot. That man had tried to trick the wrong elderly person. You don't mess around with Grandpop. And that man didn't get another penny from another unsuspecting grandmother or grandfather again...thanks to Grandpop.

The last time I saw Grandpop, I was at his house cleaning before heading back to Mercer for my sophomore year. When I walked inside, he was sitting at the computer with his head down listening to music. I didn't want to scare him, so I called out, "Grandpop!" He lifted his head, tears trickling down his face. He told me the name of the song and said that it had been one of the songs he and Grandmom had listened to when they were young. I felt awful for infringing on such a private, tender moment, but he didn't seem to mind. He seemed almost glad to have been able to share it with me. I went about my cleaning regimen. When I finished, he asked me if I cared to join him for lunch. He had made some kind of sausage and sauerkraut casserole (and thanks to my German heritage, that actually did sound appealing). I can't remember where I was in a hurry to go because it was no doubt unimportant, but I declined the offer. I regret that to this day.

Without question, above all else, Grandpop loved with all the love a heart could give. He didn't just say it, he acted it. He was a demonstrative man. I'm not half as emotionally open as he was, but I can best describe his love for my grandmother as unadulterated. Think of Noah in the Notebook. Think of Carl in Up. That is how my grandfather loved my grandmother. Not just my grandmother though, he loved his entire family. He taught us how to love. I know this because I loved him. Every time I think of him, it brings a smile to my face and a tear to my eye.

I wish he could have met my kids. He would have loved them; Ben for his quirkiness, and Abby & Sarah for no other reason than they are just precious little girls.

We don't know what took him that November morning nearly 7 years ago now, but I will always believe he died of a broken heart. I wish that my last memories weren't of him being sad and lonely, but I am comforted by the fact that he is no longer sad, and definitely no longer lonely.

I miss you, Grandpop. Thank you for being the ultimate role model to our family.

Love always,


Jada said...

Oh my gosh Jennie! What an amazing job remembering your Grandpa. What an amazing man he was and what an amazing legacy to have been remembered for teaching how to love. You had me teary eyed!

CELESTE said...

Awhh Jennie I am so glad you shared this! I have often wondered about your grandparents :) Your Grandpop sounds like he was a truly amazing man, and I can see where you got a lot of your amazing traits from! I love you and I am so happy to have you in my family!

blndgrl1212 said...

Oh Jennie, you have me in tears! So much of that I can relate and feel too. (((hugs))) Gone but never forgotten....
Heather (WOHM)
p.s. I also relate the expiration dates to other things too :P and BTW the word verification below is "weenist" WTH, is that? :) (trying to make you smile)

Debbie said...

I intruded on this first post. I cried. In fact, I'm still crying a little as I type this.

What a heart you have, dear Jennie Sheppard.

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