I can still remember the way his hand would feel wrapped around mine – thick fingers, but not harsh with callouses, strong but not abrasive.They were safety and protection and love in five hard-working digits. They easily wrapped around my kid-sized hand as we walked, explored, or just sat somewhere enjoying the people around and the day. I can still see the silver watch with turquoise and coral stones he wore and, eventually, the medical bracelet with the snake and warning engraved on the underside.
It is one of my favorite memories to recall myself sitting next to or walking next to my grandpa with my hand in his. In these moments I can feel how much pleasure he took in his family and his surroundings. A powerful, calm joy would radiate from him as he sat back in his chair with a big smile on his face and deep sigh. He nearly grunted and laughed simultaneously, “I love it,” he would say, and I would know he meant it. He loved being there, with his family around the dinner table, or exploring the outdoors with his grandkids, or laughing and telling stories and jokes with the people he shared life with. I don’t think I have ever been around someone that expressed so much love and joy just through their presence.
If I were an artist I could draw him like that – sitting back in his chair around the table with one hand on his belly and a big, sly smile. I can still see every wrinkle in his face and the twinkle in his eye. When I imagine it today he is wearing a white, short sleeved button-up shirt, khaki shorts and pulled up socks and he is satisfied and happy, content in that deep way that appreciates all things and recognizes beauty and soaks in goodness. I don’t know what the cologne was that he wore, but he smells like that in my memory, still, a mixture of masculine spice and something sweet that made me want to crawl up and lay my head on his shoulder as a little girl. That moment, with my head on my grandpa’s shoulder, breathing deeply of his cologne is when I, too, felt the most content and happy and safe in my young life.
I have a sweet memory of my grandma cooking in the kitchen while my grandfather sat nearby at the dining room table peeling apples for pie. In my memory he is practically surrounded by green skins, each apple peeled with a small knife as he spun the ripe fruit around in his hand being careful not to break the spiral that formed from the continuous movement. Him sitting in contentment, skinning fruit for a pie as the kitchen filled with the scent cinnamon and brown sugar and melting butter is still a symbol of what love is to me today. Who likes peeling apples? Well, for my grandma, my grandpa did. And it seemed he would do it all day long, for as many pies as she wanted to make. When the baking was done we would get our hot pie slices and pour thick cream over them and sit around the dining room table laughing and talking for hours. It seemed like he knew just about everything. In the mornings, my grandpa would put a fried egg on his piece of pie for breakfast. My favorite breakfast is still apple pie and I can’t make one in my own kitchen without thinking of them making pies together.
One of the possessions that I held dear for a long while was a hand written letter from my grandpa that was sent to me when I was living out of state and on my own for the first time. Getting letters from my grandma was welcome and more common with her neat lettering and straight lines, but one day a letter came with an unfamiliar chicken scratch of writing that I didn’t recognize. That letter stayed with me for many years, meaning so much that someone who didn’t much care for writing would write to me and be so proud of me. I can’t find that letter now, having moved and shuffled myself around I am not sure where it would have ended up, but I wish I still had it to read. Shortly after that letter came I got a call that my grandpa was going in for a surgery. He was getting a new heart – a transplant from some young man who, for whatever reason, didn’t need his anymore. The first prayer I ever prayed was after that phone call. I knelt on the floor of my bedroom and prayed that God would keep my grandfather on this Earth, for me, for our family, for a little while longer. With the new heart we got a couple more years with him.
The day he passed was Easter, falling on April 20th, just like this year, 11 years ago. A lot of the family spent the day with him, ate together around the big dining room table in the formal dining room at my grandparent’s house, heard and shared stories and laughter and a not-too-out-of-the-ordinary holiday together. My cousin, Tim, and I listened to him tell stories in the kitchen, and caught a short glance when he told the same story two times in a row, but I didn’t necessarily think much of it. When the call came in the middle of that night, I went down to the hospital and was invited in to say my goodbye, but the body of the man there didn’t radiate the calm, loving appreciation for life that my grandpa carried. And that is when I learned that we are much more than just bodies, we are strong spirits that don’t fade as quickly as the dust we are made from. Though he isn’t with us now, I can still feel his hand wrap around mine and sometimes hear his laugh in my ears at something clever and I know I am his granddaughter when I eat apple pie for breakfast or stop to soak in the great beauty of the world and my family. I pray that I will someday radiate love and appreciation the way he did.