This picture was taken the day I graduated from college. With me are my grandparents, who made the fairly arduous drive so they could be there to see it. To me, my college graduation was a boring chore that I couldn’t find a way to get out of. But to them, it was worthwhile enough to go a fair bit of trouble to be there.
When I look at this photo, my eyes can’t help but be drawn to my grandfather. He’s wearing an expression on his face that assures me that the camera caught him in the middle of one of the millions of little jokes and jests he’s told. It’s likely he was riffing on my university of choice.
And you can tell by the look in his eyes that he wouldn’t have missed that day for the world.
Throughout my life, my grandfather has always been the voice of quiet strength tempered with laughter. He was the expert: the expert gardener, the expert woodcrafter, the expert quilter, and (if 60 years of marriage is any indication), the expert husband. He was the patriot who served in the Air Force during war time and he was the grandfather who took me to the aviation museum when I was a kid.
As one of only two grandkids, I had the supreme privilege of being spoiled rotten by him. Because we always lived a long way away from them, I didn’t get to see him very much. But his visits were always sure to be filled with toys and big bags of candy. Even as an adult where the “bribes” weren’t quite so blatant, I’ve never been sad to see him. He’s always just been joy personified. You’ve probably never met him, and I wouldn’t blame you for considering that one of your life’s greatest regrets.
In recent years, age has caught up with him. He has suffered multiple strokes. His wit has faded as his mind has slowed. In my most recent visits with him, he was usually more likely to be dozing in his chair than anything else. But he was always happy to see me: and I’ve always been overjoyed to see him.
My grandfather passed away today. His illnesses and age finally overcame his vivacious will.
Other than his jokes, he was a quiet man. So I didn’t talk to him as much as I should have. I don’t know many details of his life. I know that he was in the Air Force. I know he retired from Blue Bird, building school busses. I know that he had the most skilled hands I’ve ever seen: over the course of his life, he made the most amazing wooden toys I’ve ever come across. That’s when he wasn’t gardening and growing giant tomatoes. And that was when he wasn’t and quilting making some of the most treasured things I own.
I know that his friends call him “Bill”, my father call him “dad”, and I call him “Paw Paw”.
And I know my own dad. I know the man he raised and the values he worked to instill in his children. As legacies go, I assure you that that beats all. So while I didn’t hear many of my grandfather’s stories (and that’s going to be an ache in my heart for the rest of my life), I think I know him pretty well. I don’t think it’s possible to not.
And since I knew my grandfather so well, I can choose to remember the good times. Even though my time with him over the last several years have been dominated by his frail body forcing comparisons to the proud man he used to me, I can choose to remember him as he was when I graduated from college: full of life and energy, a constant stream of mirth, and proud as all get out of his family. In so doing, I hope that maybe I can do some sort of justice to the memory of this great man who I loved dearly.
I’ll miss you, Paw Paw.