There was once a lanky red-headed boy, born and raised on a conservative Presbyterian farm. His family was painfully poor; they often had mashed potato sandwiches for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. He was smart as a whip and worked hard, joining the Navy during war time, traveling, and eventually gaining employment nearer to home with a man of means.
The man of means had a daughter, a former Navy nurse, who the red-headed boy grew fond of. He eventually converted to her church (because in those days, that was what you did) and married her. They had four children together, and while she was hard to live with and life wasn’t perfect, he loved her and their children dearly.
Eventually he retired, an accomplished accountant who made life comfortable for his family, which was so very him. He loved his golf, he loved good food, he loved his dogs, he loved his God, he loved his wife, and he loved his children (not necessarily in that order). Grandchildren came along, mostly daughters, and he doted on them with unabashed delight.
The red-headed boy grew gray. His stories kept his grandchildren laughing, and his still-lanky form gathered them into hugs at every opportunity. He fed the dogs from bowls on the table; he doted on them too, but it amused his grandchildren and flustered his beloved wife, because that was so very him. He teased his wife, never chiding or hurting her, and they would laugh as she threatened to hit him with her cane. He cherished every memory, even as disease set in and started to steal his memories from him.
His grandchildren eventually grew into busy adults, but they still delighted in his stories. He would answer queries of “How are you doing?” with “Everyone I can,” much to their amusement and chagrin, because that was so very him. He still carried a pen in his pocket, but now, instead of the facts and figures of his long career, it was used to write down his stories and memories, because he didn’t want to forget.
The doctors treating the red-haired boy grew concerned, finally suggesting that he and his wife move out of their home. They did not let him take his car, or his beloved dog. Because his mind was betraying him and his temper starting to flare, they separated him from his beloved wife. And finally, when he started getting sicker, they took away his food.
His children and grandchildren called and visited him when they could. He still answered with humor. He even unplugged his feeding tube to go get a balloon hat from a clown performing in the community room, sending his family into fits of worry and delight, because that was so very him. He flirted with his nurses, and still carried a pen and paper. He remembered his most distant grandchildren, and when one expressed regret at not being a better grandchild, he told her, “You’re still my good girl and I love you.”
But for all he kept up his spirits, he was wearing thin. He had lived a long time; he had earned much, and much had been taken away. He was tired, and finally decided to sleep.
The red-headed boy, still lanky, still funny, and still talking about those mashed potato sandwiches, fell asleep on February 29th, 2008. It was payday. It was Friday. And he had a pen in his pocket to the very end.
And his grandchildren cried in loss and laughed in joy, because that was so very him.
The red-headed boy was my father’s father, my Grandpa, whom I loved dearly. He was one of the best examples of a good Catholic and good human being I have ever met, and loved his family without reserve. Today is the first anniversary of his passing four years ago, a Wednesday (“Hump” day) to boot. And that is so very him.