Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The Only One I Ever Knew

The relationship Grandpa Stan had with our family was a strange one.

He was the neighbor. Divorced, messily. He had kids, but not much of relationship with either of them. He moved in with my grandma when my uncle was still in high school.

Before I was born, and when I was younger, his relationship with my aunts and my uncles was rocky. His fuse, I think, was somewhat short and the entire situation, I think, was awkward: some random, wild, heavy drinker of a man moving in with your mom. It would probably be difficult to be gracious in that situation.

But he was always my grandpa. Not the type of grandpa who would take you to the park or to the zoo, but my grandpa nonetheless. We would play card games – mostly War. He would pay us feeble amounts of money to count tiny light bulbs, which he sold. He was always at the beach, slathered in baby oil, listening to the radio and playing cards with Grandma. We, the grandchildren, ran around and swam and ate chips.

When my grandma died, suddenly, he was the one who found her body. Her death broke him. Skinny and lifeless, he would spend hours upon hours at Mom and Dad’s. For no reason, really, except to avoid being alone.

Sometimes we would joke and call him our inheritance.

He wasn’t a father or a stepfather. Grandma left him behind and we inherited him.

It wasn’t terribly long after she died – probably not a year, even – that he found a new girlfriend. A widow in Ohio who he would drive to see. For a while, he continued to spend holidays with our family, as he had for over 20 years. And then that stopped, too.

We still saw him, but infrequently. He would stop by, randomly, when he was in town. Aunt Lynn would cook him dinner. And he would call, too. To tell me that I look like the girl in Mamma Mia. To send his condolences for Aunt Marie’s passing. To wish us a Merry Christmas.

He called after Christmas – the 26th or the 27th. I answered the phone, chatted with him for a bit. He briefly mentioned his upcoming surgery and his liver cancer. For such grave subjects, he sounded remarkably upbeat. He sounded as though the cancer and the surgeries were just another obstacle. Something else to overcome. He gave me the impression that beating the disease was a certainty. I didn’t worry about him.

And I never saw him again. And I never spoke to him again.

But what I did do, before hanging up with him, was tell him that I love him.

I’m so glad that I did.


Anonymous said...

Sorry it has been so rough recently. Hang in there!

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