My Grandpa(Ukki), The Old Finnish Man
Living in the US, I never really got to see my extended family in Europe. I never got to meet my grandparents on my mom’s side due to tragic deaths brought on by cigarettes; so I always had to make due with seeing my father’s parents a few days out of the year, spending a week or so, laughing, lighting fires, and just sitting in the sauna my father and Ukki had built so many years ago.
When he we learned he had been diagnosed with stomach cancer, it hit my father. He’d just lost his job and was on severance, so he went multiple times to go visit my grandpa. Even when he got a new job, every single time he had a trip to Europe he’d spend AT LEAST a week with my grandpa, reminiscing about the good times. Eventually we went too to go see him, and what I saw was a man still happy to be alive.
I told him about school, and all my friends, and he’d laugh with as much vigor as ever. To me he was the exact same man he’d always been, cheerful but stern, and happy as he could ever be; even if the chemo had made him lose his hair, hate salty foods that he’d loved for so long, and made it so that he had to chew for hours before he could actually swallow anything.
When we left, I was truly happy I’d been able to spend this amazing week with him, burning anything we could find every night, cooking steak or moose over an open fire, or just playing cards. A few months later my grandpa passed away. I remember every day my dad making calls to my grandpa’s old friends to see if anyone could help my grandpa with selling the house and moving out. He realized truly how many friends my grandpa really had. Next time we visited he met so many people who offered him their condolences; the fisherman where they’d always purchased their fish, the carpenter who’d sold them the wood to build our cottage, my father realized what a loved man my grandpa was.
About a year and a half later, I was at a Relay for Life event with some friends, just for fun, but after watching their montage of all these people who’d died, or who were still fighting, I began to cry. So, I walked for a few hours, by myself, listening to music and just thinking about him. Eventually a friend of mine asked me if I was okay and if I wanted to go play GAGA with them. I wiped some tears away and said, “I’d love to man.” and we played and laughed all night long, just like I had with my grandpa.
Although he’s gone, there was one thing he taught me that he always used to antagonize me and my siblings. He could always find this one spot just above the knee where you could squeeze which would just tickle the crap out of you and hurt a little. Today, every time i’m watching a movie or just chilling with some friends, or even just talking with my siblings, I’ll put my hand to rest on that spot, squeeze, and hear the utter glee that erupts from their face. I always smile, and thank my Ukki for teaching me that one trick.