Funny how some things you remember as if they were yesterday – like the first time death came barging into your life.
I was ten years old – a skinny kid sleeping in an upstairs bedroom, overly tired from hanging out the day before with cousins and aunts and uncles, windows open on both sides of the room to help what little breeze there was cool the un-air-conditioned room in the big old farm house.
The first thing I remember about that morning is my fifteen-year-old cousin sitting on my bed, telling me our grandpa was dead.
Just like that – gone.
Strange, too, how things work out some times. That summer, my city cousin was staying with us to get a taste of farm life and help my parents. Little did anyone know that part of the helping would be watching my three siblings and me when my parents received a late-night call that Grandpa had suffered a fatal heart attack as he got ready to go to sleep.
My poor cousin. I had a gob of questions for him – the kinds of questions kids have about things like heaven and eternal life.
As the oldest in my family, I’d always wished I’d had a big brother. That day, my cousin came as close to playing the part as anyone did until my own younger brothers filled that role as adults.
I was glad he was there for me. And, you know, I don’t think I’ve ever taken time to tell him.
It was his grandfather, too, so I’m sure I wasn’t the only one hurting that day.
When my grandpa died, he was only 71. Back then, 71 seemed old. Now, as I’m a little more than a decade away from that number and my cousin is even closer to it, it seems young, too young.
I once had a friend tell me how lucky I was to have had the chance to know my grandparents and one great-grandparent, three of whom lived more than 95 years.
She was right.
Even the grandpa I lost first is etched still in my mind – short in stature compared to many men, I guess, but big in my eyes. He was a quiet man, stern without having to say a word, loving without needing to tell us.
Grandpa was smart. He could fix anything, do it all with a few hand tools – all meticulously maintained, used for years and for a multitude of purposes. His garden was fruitful and tidy, his cherry tree well groomed. He kept his yard buzzed short with a human-powered rotary mower.
He waited patiently in the car while Grandma went into the grocery store, the drug store with the soda fountain and the Ben Franklin.
When he wasn’t working hard, you’d find this World War I vet sitting at his place at the end of the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and his Camel cigarettes, wearing the same style of work uniform-type togs, except on the rarest of occasions.
I’ve always had broad shoulders for a female, and I knew that the genes for them came from this grandpa. This trait that may have been a source of frustration for some women never bothered me at all. My shoulders have a way of reminding me of my grandpa on days when I tend to forget him.
Today isn’t one of those days. Around 10 p.m. one Fourth of July, my grandpa left this world. I thought about him all day yesterday.
Fifty years ago this morning I learned of his passing – and I miss him still.
© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012