Tuesday, February 21, 2017

My Grandpa


My Grandpa Bill died two weeks ago. He was 92 and had been in really good health for his age but had been falling down recently. He fell in his backyard doing some gardening and spent a week recovering in the hospital. Then he was sent to a rehabilitation center to rebuild his strength. While he was at a rehab session, he had a stroke and went back into the hospital, where he died somewhat unexpectedly after a few days. I'm very sad about his death. I was close to him when I was growing up. I don't have very many photos of myself with him. I think my mom must have a few that I don't have, but I have always liked this one, taken when I was about two months old. I can't believe how young my grandparents look in this picture! They were in their early fifties when I was born. I was their third grandchild; there are two cousins older than me. My grandpa looks a lot like my dad here, though my dad is now more than a decade older than my grandpa was at the time of the photo. That kind of blows me away. Sometimes I forget how old I am too.

My grandpa was a really interesting guy. He came from Indianapolis and was raised mostly by his grandparents, who were relatively prosperous during the Depression because they owned a coal-and-ice business. Everyone needed coal and ice. My grandpa joined the US Coast Guard during World War II. He was mostly stationed around the northeast but spent some time in coastal California as well. Like many men of his generation, he was self-educated and his interests ranged from gardening to cooking to tropical fish-breeding.

He met my grandmother toward the end of the war, when he was stationed near Brooklyn, New York. She was sixteen, the daughter of Jewish immigrants from Latvia, and the president of the Brooklyn chapter of the Frank Sinatra Fan Club. She and a girlfriend decided they wanted to cook dinner for a couple of sailors so she called the Coast Guard base and asked for two nice ones to be sent over to her parents' home. Can you even imagine? I'm trying to picture this happening today and I just can't. They did turn out to be nice sailors and my grandmother was married to the one named Bill a couple of months later, just after she'd turned seventeen. Again, I can't imagine. They had their first son within a year of their wedding, followed quickly by two more. My dad is their youngest son. They raised their family in Brooklyn; my grandpa never went back to Indiana after he met her. He converted to Judaism but was interested in every type of religion and read voraciously on that subject and many others.

When my dad was in college, they left Brooklyn and built a house upstate, near Rhinebeck, on several acres of land. There, they raised chickens and goats and did lots of gardening. My grandpa built a small greenhouse in the backyard. He grew herbs and veggies. They bred dogs and learned to sail. My grandma worked in a local hospital and knew every doctor in the area. My grandpa was an auto mechanic who worked in a few of the big car dealerships and also taught aspiring mechanics in the local vo-tech school. Kids around my age were the last group he taught. Everywhere you went, people in the car-repair business knew Pappy, the name he always went by. I had famous grandparents. My friends loved them; I invited them to my parties.

Most of my childhood was spent about thirty minutes away, in Poughkeepsie. I loved sleeping at their house and helping with the dogs. They took me to plays and museums. When I was about nine, they took me window shopping in Trump Tower. My grandpa said a very rich man lived upstairs. I loved my grandparents' house and land. I don't remember the chickens or goats very well; they mostly had those animals while my parents lived in Georgia for a few years (I was born during that period and lived there until I was five when my parents returned to New York). I remember well the times my grandparents came down to Georgia to see us; Grandpa loved his Southern food and always ordered banana pudding, which he shared with me. He hated turkey. On holidays, my grandmother would make a ham just for him. He loved lamb with mint jelly and always gave me some jelly, but didn't make me eat the lamb. He always took a shower before dinner and combed his hair. When I met my husband, I noticed that he combed his hair the same way. It was a nice association between two good men.

My grandma is doing okay. She sounds good and seems optimistic about her new life but I know it won't be easy. They were married for 71 years, since she was a teenager. I think that will be a difficult adjustment for her. I'll do whatever I can to help. I'm glad she has my uncle and aunt nearby for support. She has a lot of friends and a dog who makes her happy. I'd like to visit her soon. She lives close to the beach, which was a dream they both had for a long time. They lived in North Carolina for a few years before finally settling in Florida. They loved the beach and wanted to be near it again when they finally retired in their seventies (only to begin working again when they got there! I tell you, they're amazing).

Thanks for letting me talk about my grandpa. He was a positive influence in our lives. My husband came to love him as much as I did. I'll miss him very much but I know he had a good, full life.

34 comments:

  1. So sorry to learn about your loss. I lost both of my grandfathers two years ago and just three months apart. I miss them. They were always around from our the day I was born. Hope you make it to Florida this summer to visit your grandmother. I'm sure she would enjoy seeing you and your family.

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  2. Hey Jennifer,
    I'm so sad to hear of the loss of your grandfather. But what a wonderful eulogy you have written here. He sounds like an amazing person; full of love, light and laughter. I love that he let you have the mint jelly, even if you didn't have the lamb. It's those sorts of remembrances that are so precious.
    With much love,
    Leanne xx

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  3. I loved reading about your Grandpa Jennifer and what lovely memories you have of this very special person in your life. I hope your Grandma will be OK, it is always so hard for the partner left behind after a long and happy marriage. Sending you my very best wishes.

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  4. Jennifer, I'm so sorry to hear of your sad loss, he sounds like a wonderful man. I love that you have written down your memories of him here and that they have been preserved. What amazing changes took place in the world over the course of his lifetime. The story of how he met your grandmother is brilliant. And I love that they had a big garden and a greenhouse and chickens and goats. It all sounds rather lovely - a good life I think. Sending you a hug Jennifer. CJ xx

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  5. What a lovely tribute you've written about your Grandpa, Jennifer. He sounds like a wonderful man, like many of his generation. You were very blessed to have him with you so long. My prayers will be with you and your family and especially your grandmother as she makes this difficult adjustment. I can't even begin to imagine 71 years! We'll be 39 years this year and I thought that was a long time! Thank you for sharing your heart with us today. Much love.
    Blessings, Betsy

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  6. Oh Jennifer. I am so sorry. Your grandfather sounds as though he was a lovely man who lived a rich, full life and touched the lives of many others. This post is a wonderful tribute to him – thank you for sharing your memories of him so eloquently. The story of how he met your grandmother is brilliant. What adventures they must have had. I do hope she is bearing up ok. Sending love. Sam x

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  7. So sorry to hear about your loss. I have loved reading about your grandparents life. I miss my grandparents a lot, they both are in spirit now but they were an important part of my life. The good thing is that they are alive in our hearts, so while we live they live in our memories.

    Big hug

    Luisa xoxo

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  8. Sorry to hear the news about your grandfather; he sounds like a bit of a character and to have been married for 71 years is amazing.

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  9. Dear Jennifer, what a beautiful tribute you have written about your wonderful grandfather - I was hanging on to every word! He and your grandmother were certainly amazing people, and I am so sorry for your loss, the more so as it was really sudden. Take care my dear. x

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  10. ...so they called up, requested two sailors and then made them dinner? I am at a loss for words. Was that as bizarre then as it sounds now? Haha! :)

    It's such a treasure to have happy memories. My condolences on your loss.

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  11. Such a wonderful tribute for your dear Grandfather, my sincere condolences.

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  12. I'm so sorry for your loss! They were married for 71 years! That is amazing and wonderful. I enjoyed reading the tribute you wrote here. He sounds like a special man.

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  13. What a loving, humourous portrait of your grandpa you've painted here. I'm so sorry for your loss but take comfort in the memories. Married for 71 years though, wow! X

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  14. I'm so sorry for your loss. Your grandpa sounds like an amazing man and he certainly lived his life to the full. What a wonderful story about him meeting your grandma, they certainly sound like kindred spirits the way they went on to live their lives together and were blessed to have each other for so long. Sending my deepest condolences to you and your family.

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  15. I'm sorry for your loss. He sounds like a wonderful man and I'm sure you will miss him so very much.

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  16. Hugs to you, Jennifer. It sounds like your Grandpa was a very special man.

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  17. I am very sorry about your loss Jennifer. Your grandpa sounds like a wonderful man, kind and caring and interesting, too. You portrayed your grandpa in the most beautiful manner possible. Hugs to you. xx

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  18. What a wonderful story of a life well lived. You have told it so well too Jennifer. It's nice to keep these memories alive of the big things and the little things (like sharing his favourite foods with you). I hope you grandma adjusts well to her new situation. They both sound like fantastic people.

    When the generations before us start to disappear, we really do feel our own mortality. I found it was a big adjustment realizing I had stepped into my parent's place as the older generation. I don't feel old, but had the same awakening looking at photos of my parents when I was a teenager and realizing I'm in the same age bracket now.

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  19. I am so sorry to hear of the loss or your grandfather, and send you my condolences, Jennifer. Your tribute to him is so beautifully written...what a wonderful man, and such an interesting life he and your grandma led.
    Sending love x
    Helen xox

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  20. A lovely tribute Jennifer, my deepest condolences. xx

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  21. So sorry you've lost your grandad Jennifer. He sounds like he was a fascinating, interesting man and more trickles down the generations than we know! J x

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  22. What a beautiful post, Jennifer! I'm so sorry to hear about grandpa. x

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  23. A lovely tribute to your grandfather who sounds like a fascinating man, loved and admired by many. I am sorry for your loss and hope all your memories bring some comfort.

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  24. I am so sorry for your loss, Jennifer. This was a beautiful tribute to your grandpa and I enjoyed reading it. I knew immediately that was you in the photo - you look exactly the same! And boy, do I ever see your daughter in you. I hope your grandma will be OK...I can't imagine living on your own after being married 71 years. Blessings to all of you.

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  25. He sounds like the best grandfather. I'm so sorry to read your news. Take care x

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  26. So sorry to hear of your loss Jennifer. He sounds like a really fantastic man who touched many lives. Hang in there.

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  27. sorry for your loss, he sounds like a wonderful grandpa to grow up with. take care of yourself
    loved the story
    thanx for sharing

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  28. I'm so sorry about your grandpa, Jennifer. He sounds like a wonderful man, much like my grandfather was. I'm so glad he has left you with a rich legacy of wonderful, warm memories. Thank you so much for sharing about him.

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  29. what a special man!! I am so very sorry for your loss. These things are so hard, something irreplaceably precious is lost to us. Clearly your Grandfather was a well-read, thoughtful, kind industrious (!) man! I still miss my Grandpa John who died 10 years ago, there were things that he understood that we shared that are just not translatable to others. It sounds like your Grandpa gave you a lot of wonderful memories and buckets of kindness. May his memory be eternal! (I will light a candle for you here!)

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  30. I am so sorry for your loss, he sounds like a wonderful man. How lucky your grandmother was to have 71 years with him. And how lucky you were to have such an incredible grandfather.

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  31. Wow. 71 years. How wonderful! I'm so sorry for your loss but know that you have many happy memories of a wonderful man in your life. xo

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  32. So sorry to hear that Jennifer, but I liked the tribute to his fruitful and prosperous long life. xxxx Jo

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  33. So sorry you have lost such a lovely Grampa, he was obviously much loved by everyone and what a beautiful photo.

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  34. What a very beautiful piece of writing about your Grandpa. I am sorry for your loss. I love reading about older generations, what a fascinating history of self taught determination. 71 years of marriage- more than a lifetime. Love the photograph too, they are both looking at you so devotedly X

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