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On Grandfathers

with Hap 1976

Hap with his second grandchild (me), 1976.

If I could only be so lucky.

That’s the thought that comes to mind when I consider that both my grandfathers lived beyond 90 years, passing rather quietly and peacefully of old age instead of some disease, cancer, heart attack or accident.

To live a long life.

To watch the grandchildren grow to into adulthood. To experience the joy of great-grandchildren.

In the last 8 months, both of my grandfathers have passed on. First, in February, my paternal grandfather, Albert, died in hospice. He was 93. Then, two weeks ago, Lloyd – “Hap” as he was known by family and friends – my maternal grandfather, died at 91 years old. I can’t say that I’m “sad” or that I’m “mourning” their deaths as one would expect to define those words concerning the loss of a loved family member. As I said, they had both lived long lives and they were not sudden, shocking deaths. I do, however, tend to be a terribly sentimental person.

with Al

With Al on my wedding day, 2001.

When Al died, I had the urge to go to Bonnie Doon Ice Cream downtown on 4th Street for a bowl of mint chip. A prominent memory from childhood, and of Al, was that when my brother and I would spend a day with him and my grandma, he would walk with us there from his house on 10th Street and treat us to ice cream. For all I know, this may have only happened once or twice, but in my memory, we did this every time we stayed at their house.

Two Sundays ago, after Hap died, I was driving home from my grandma’s house, and I was tempted to stop at a store to buy a bag of fun-size Milky Way candy bars to put in the freezer at home, for Hap, as I remember, always had them in his freezer, especially at the lake cottage during the summer. I always looked forward to gnawing on one of those frozen candy bars when I visited, and, admittedly, sneaking one now and then. This must explain why, to this day, Milky Ways are my favorite.

I say I had the urge to relive these memories of my grandfathers after they passed, yet I didn’t follow through. I’m not sure why I didn’t actually sit down at Bonnie Doon or get a bag of candy bars. Somehow, maybe, I felt ridiculous being so sentimental, trying to relive a childhood moment. What would I achieve in doing so, aside from consuming additional calories in both cases? Honoring the memories of my grandfathers, I now realize, would have been a valid enough reason to act on those sentimental urges.

But since I didn’t do that, here I am, blogging it out, honoring the memories of my grandfathers through this social medium for anyone to read, but especially, now, the memories of Hap, whose ashes we will be interred at the cemetery tomorrow.

with Hap, 1978

Getting a lift from Hap, 1978.

I don’t think anyone who knew Hap could think of him without thinking also of golf. Though I don’t play golf myself, the entire sport, for me, is defined by Hap. He played his entire life, from high school well into his eighties. He had a couple proud hole-in-ones, shot his age at 74, and gave golfers half his age a run for their money. During the summers at the cottage on Pretty Lake when I was growing up, if Hap wasn’t at the cottage, it could almost always be assumed he was on the golf course, which was just down the road and partially bordered the lake. I went golfing a few times with Hap as a kid, but I never picked up the sport on my own. Still, to me, Hap=Golf.

Thinking of Hap makes me think of Dilly Bars from Dairy Queen, and driving into town from the lake to buy a bag of them to take back to the cottage.

The giant slide at the Centennial Park playground in Plymouth. I anchor conquering that enormous metal beast with Hap because he took me there when I was young, stood by while I climbed the seemingly endless steps to the top, and shared in my joy as I flew down the long, bumpy chute.

Speaking of flying down inclines on my ass, depending on which route I take home from work, I sometimes drive by Elm Road Elementary School, behind which is a hill where Hap used to take us sledding in the winter. He always brought along the old wooden toboggan, on which he would ride down the hill with us. And as winter activities go, one of the few times-probably the first time-I ever tried ice skating was with Hap, who was quite deft on the ice.

During the summers, when my brother and I stayed overnight at the lake without our parents, Hap would tuck us into bed and tell us stories of when he was a kid, of playing at the lake, at that same cottage, or of games of hide-and-seek in the nearby cornfields. The details of those stories escape me now, and I wish I remembered them, but the just the memory of him sitting upstairs with us as we went to sleep, and of singing us to sleep with “I’ve Been Working On the Railroad.”

Hap 2004

Hap with my daughter, his first great-grandchild, 2004.

As is true will all people, everyone who knew Hap-family, friends, coworkers, neighbors-have their own unique memories of him, their own experiences which define Hap for them, their own impressions of who he was and what they gained from knowing him. But it was the grandkids who got the best of Hap. We were fortunate enough to experience the limitless joy it was to be with him. We had the pure, unconditional love that only a grandfather could give. One day, in the distant future, I hope to have my own grandchildren so that I can experience the other side of that relationship.

When I reflect on all of this, I now realize that what made having Hap as a grandfather one of the greatest things in the world was that he always gave me impression that having grandchildren was the single greatest thing in the world.

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