Gramps — Old Man, Young Heart
My grandfather or “Gramps” as I call him, has always amazed me. Long before Dos Eques claimed to have “The Worlds Most Interesting Man,” there was Gramps. His life began as a poor farm boy in Rush, NY, who later became a soldier after being drafted into WWII. After doing his time, he went on to become a scientist, and eventually a world traveler. I wonder as a kid during the Great Depression if he had the imagination to see himself exploring the Galapagos Islands or climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. If he did then I guess dreams really do come true.
Whether it was pulling a penny out of my ear, or a surprise trip to Disneyworld, Gramps always had the ability to captivate. He proved it every year at the annual 4th of July celebration on Conesus Lake. Sloppy Joes were devoured in anticipation of the evening’s activities. As darkness fell, flares would outline the entire lake in what was known as, “the ring of fire.” Like soldiers lining up for battle, they marked the extravagant war that was about to be waged. However, no one was as prepared as my Grandfather. He was the Pablo Escobar of smuggling fireworks into the state, and it was apparent in his finesse. I recall standing transfixed on the dock, overwhelmed by the spectacle. The ubiquitous explosions rattled my senses as I gazed up at the artificial Aura Borealis overhead. With wizardly prowess, Gramps would stand poised at the end of the dock and light the fuse. The dock would shake beneath me as he galloped away from the time bomb. The urgency in his step, along with the anticipation on his face, told me I was in for a treat.
At an age when most people would be content to simply be alive, Gramps was unsatisfied. He was constantly getting himself into trouble by playing on rickety ladders in order to clean gutters or ward off wasp nests. This restless, old man attitude added to his youthfulness and overshadowed his age. I distinctly remember playing a game of whiffle ball as a kid with the whole family. My older brother Jeff, who was probably 10 at the time stood confidently on the pitcher’s mound. My teammate Gramps unassumingly got into his batting stance. The pitch was throw and he took off after hitting a grounder. My brother scooped it up with youthful charisma and charged after the slothful old man. Apparently, something inside Gramps head decided not to let his grandson have the pleasure of tagging him out. Deep down there must have been a chain reaction that led to a rush of competitiveness. Suddenly, Jeff was hopelessly chasing Usain Bolt as the old man kicked it into another gear. The only part of Gramps Jeff got a hold of was the dust left behind by the senior citizen.
My house is adorned with my grandfather’s craftsmanship. That man can take a stump of wood and transform it into just about anything. As a little kid, who enjoyed whittling sticks, these lifelike carvings tantalized me. They stood as a constant reminder of Gramps wondrous capabilities. Sure, I could carve up a pretty snazzy twig, but this was out of my league. Just imagine a young Egyptian boy playing with blocks in the shadow of the Great Pyramid. Similar to how I mimic him, Gramps tries to impersonate what he observes in nature. He takes in what he sees from his binoculars and recreates them with his hands. The block of wood slowly morphs into that creature spotted in the woods. I think the carvings act as a reminder of his travels, and the various habitats he encountered along the way. More meaningful than a cheesy souvenir and more reminiscent than even the most vivid photo. The Tricolor Heron last seen prowling the shallows now resides under the warm glow of a reading lamp.
Ironically, when it comes to home repairs, my grandfather’s craftsmanship runs dry. Any problem can be fixed with a stern hammer and a sufficient amount of duct tape. His cramped workshop looked like the contents of a “Where’s Waldo” book dumped out. One time years ago, I was helping install a new basement window at the house. Gramps was standing inside securing it while I was on the outside holding it in place. When he was confident it would hold true, I was told to let go. Sure enough, the window fell and smashed at his feet. A few minutes later the window reappeared, only this time it was less transparent. He had decided to patch it back together with some trusty duck tape. Looking from the outside it appeared as though his face was stuck in a giant duck tape spider web.
One day my grandma called the house sobbing. Her words were muffled as they squeezed past the lump in her throat. Everyone knew this day would eventually arrive. The task of caring for her husband and their beautiful home had finally become overbearing. After all, Neither of them were getting any younger. For years, Gramps good fortune had been made possible by the unrelenting support of my grandmother. Without her gracious dedication, he would have been stuck in a nursing home years ago. Unfortunately, his worsening condition was now beyond her control.
To my dismay, Gramps was rushed into urgent care in 2010. The days spent recalling past experiences came to a sudden halt as I was jolted back to the present. He was no longer the man out running my brother or the fireworks extraordinaire. The deft carvings in his home symbolize places he would never return to and adventures that will not be repeated. What did remain was his enthusiasm for life, that forever transcended old age. He never spoke about the IV in his arm or the lonely nights, rather the good food and comfy chairs that surrounded him.
I said my final goodbye to the man in 2011. He was sitting in a wheelchair seemingly unresponsive, but I spoke into his ear. I spoke with the hope my words would lodge themselves somewhere in the synapses of his brain. I spoke to hear myself tell him how much he meant to me.
To this day, I constantly think of the man. Having as many interests as he did, there’s an unlimited number of moments that remind me of him. Some days it’s a breeze that smells like Florida. Other times, it’s identifying a bird that’s decided to momentarily accompany me. Whatever it is, I’m always thankful. Thankful for the grandfather I had, and always will have.
Originally published at www.kgfellows.com on July 12, 2017.