My post of yesterday put me in mind to write this post.
My lovely wife L and I were the oldest grandkids in our respective families. That meant that we knew our grandparents and even great-grandparents better than our younger siblings and relatives. It also meant that we were the first to do such things as graduate from junior high and high school, etc. That meant that whatever we got as gifts, we could predict with great confidence what the later kids would get. If I got a pen and pencil set for high school graduation, then 20 years later that was what my cousin was getting when he graduated. Our grandparents were never anything but scrupulously fair in that respect. Being the oldest also meant that we were blessed to have all of our grandparents (with the exception of L's one grandfather who had died in her childhood) able to attend our wedding. Those wedding pictures with grandparents, parents, siblings, and us are treasured all the more as we grow older and have lost so many of our grandparents and parents. My grandparents are all gone now and only L's grandmother is still with us on her side (at 100+ years of age no less). We have both lost our fathers, but if you have read this blog much you'll know that our mothers are both still with us.
Now that I have finished meandering down memory lane, I wanted to talk about my grandfathers - grandpa J and grandpa P. Two less similar people probably haven't been in anyone's life. Grandpa J was a small wiry rascal that cussed and drank freely, fished and hunted, and had a checkered career. Grandpa P was big and stern, I never heard him cuss and never saw him drink in my life. By the time I was a kid, he no longer hunted and so far as I know he never fished in his life. He was a lifelong farmer and steward of the land.
My favorite memories of grandpa J are from childhood when we lived across the street from grandpa and grandma in Nebraska for a few years and then in my senior year of high school and early years of college.
Yesterday I talked a bit about hunting on the creek with grandpa J. Growing up, we didn't have a television until I was 11 or 12. But grandpa J had one when we lived across the street from him. He would often come and sneak my brother and I out of our bedroom window and over to his house so we could watch cartoons. Often times to later face the wrath of a worried Mom. I can remember him sneaking us out to watch cartoons and then climbing up on the roof of the house to adjust the antenna during a rain storm to get a clearer picture. Basically, there was nothing that grandpa J wouldn't do for us kids. It was sad when we moved and he dropped back to a lesser presence in out lives. At the same time it was probably good, because we were getting older and grandpa J definitely fit into a certain part of life better than others.
Around the time I was a senior in high school, grandpa J suffered a stroke and was partially paralyzed. I still remember going to the nursing home, getting grandpa (I always pictured it as breaking him out of the place), driving to the donut shop to get a donut, and then off to park and watch the world pass by as he (with great effort and troubles at times) ate his donut, drank some coffee, and smoked a cigarette. He couldn't talk well, so I would carry on a monologue and he would let me know what he thought by grunts and gestures. That continued when I was home on breaks from college. It only seemed right given all the things he had done with and for me when I was a kid.
Grandpa P was a completely different person. Never one to talk much about himself, it was up to us kids looking through old pictures to discover that he was on his high school boxing team and evidently quite good. A farmer, he attended correspondence school to learn electronics and television repair when it looked like blood clots might end his farming career. He had a basement full of batteries and a wind charger setup before electricity was available at the farm. He built radios when my Mom was young to listen to the news from Chicago and other faraway places by kerosene lamp. He was an inveterate inventor/tinkerer and built many different types of machines for handling various chores and crops. I spent a number of summers staying with grandpa and grandma P on the farm, working and watching. All the neighbors would come to him to have him build them versions of his machines, to ask his advice, etc. His approach was seldom to tell you anything directly. When I was interested in electronics, he just handed me the materials from the correspondence school and said comeback when I understood it. He would never tell you that he was proud of you directly. The way you would find out is when someone he was bragging about you to told you about it. All the same you knew.
There are many things we did talk about. Grandpa P was the president of a local irrigation and reservoir company and was involved in water rights issues long before they achieved the overwhelming importance they have today in the American West. He served on several congressional committees related to water and loved to talk about it. Much of what he and I talked about back then form the hot issues I deal with as mayor today.
It was from grandpa P and his dad great-grandpa P that many of my Christmas traditions were founded. I remember as a little kid going to great-grandpa and great-grandma P's for Christmas Eve. Grandpa and his two brothers and all their families would gather for the arrival of Santa Claus. Given that grandpa and grandma P had 6 kids and grandpa's two brothers had similar numbers and then they all married and had kids, it was a zoo. All of us youngsters were on our best behavior because great-grandma P was a sharp outspoken German lady that didn't believe in unruly kids. (She also carried a cane and was not adverse to using it!) When great-grandpa and great-grandma died, the celebration moved to grandpa and grandma P's. With all the grand kids, I can remember unwrapping frenzies that left the floor covered two feet deep in wrapping paper. In grandpa P's last years, we moved the celebration to our house. And up until the youngsters of my cousins got old enough to not believe in Santa, he came here bringing packages. The only big change was that Santa here in town arrived via firetruck and didn't sneak up to the house.
It was not long after L and I moved back here from LA and had our son that Grandpa P was diagnosed with inoperable metastatic cancer. Typical of his stoic persistence, he checked out of the hospital and went back to the farm. It was spring and he wanted to see the crop planted, grown, and harvested before he died. Although I suspect he was in severe pain, he worked the fields right through harvest. Shortly thereafter, he decided that it had gone as far as it could, quit eating and drinking, and a bit later passed away. I still vividly remember driving out to the farm with our very young son to sit and talk or just sit. Typical of the man was the fact that he did it without pain killers because he didn't want his mind clouded and because underneath it all he harbored a fear of becoming addicted even as he knew he was dying. To this day the honking of the geese as they migrate in the fall brings back memories of grandpa P and his passing.
I think I had the best of all worlds from my grandfathers. One rascal that believed rules were meant to be bent and life was to be lived now. One serious stoic thinker that believed in both practical and intellectual pursuits.
Both were honest and honorable. Both were good men. Both loved us kids. I miss them both.