July 24, 2017

It's Wine Time in Heaven

Every night at 5 pm for as long as I can remember my Grandpa Jim would pour himself and any guests a small glass of wine accompanied by either a handful of peanuts or apple slices. He would smile and declare, "It's wine time." Afterwards he always had a tooth pick handy from his shirt pocket stash. On Tuesday, July 18, 2017, Grandpa Jim enjoyed his first wine time in Heaven.

After the death of my Grandpa Emery last year, I immediately began to write. I wanted to get my memories of him into concrete words before those memories faded to a foggy haze. I am so thankful that my grief manifested this way. Someday my kids, without any distinct memories of him, will be able to embrace my favorite things about him. And so here I am again. Setting out to capture my love for my Grandpa Jim. I hope this will make those of you who have also loved him smile. And for those of you less fortunate, here is what made him remarkable.

+ His tough love. My Grandpa Jim was not necessarily always warm and fuzzy. While his expectations may have felt scary as a little kid, his tough love approach helped raise me to be resilient. I see so much of his tough love in the way my mom raised me and my sister, and now I see it in the way I am as both a wife and mom. Brad often calls me a tough cookie, and I do not think I would survive being an Army wife if I was not one. Thank you, grandpa.

+ His softened heart. Over the past few years I witnessed an incredible change in heart. I first noticed it in 2014 when Grandpa Marge and Grandpa Jim visited us in our Tennessee home. We surprised them with the news that I was pregnant with our firstborn, Eloise. The sentiments that poured out of Grandpa Jim shocked me in the best way. He was simply ecstatic to witness the growth of our family. He shared how having children early enough for older generations to meet and enjoy the little ones was likewise a priority for him and my grandma. His joy was unexpected and palpable. I will never forget his smile on that day. Grandpa Jim enjoyed a walk with Eloise and met our littlest, Harvey, on what has been called one of his very last good days. I will be thankful for that day together forever.

+ His socks and sandals. Comfort is key. That is maybe the most important lesson my Grandpa Jim taught me. His shoe of choice was always sandals with dress socks. It is such a small and silly memory of him, but it will always warm my heart.

+ His love for animals. Grandpa Jim had a special place in his heart for furry friends. As a kid he had four cherished cats named Eenie, Meenie, Miney, and Mo. I know exactly where my crazy cat lady gene comes from, and you better believe I am darn proud of it. Without hesitation Grandpa Jim welcomed Patches home, a black lab who failed his final test to become a guide dog for the visually impaired. Their family finding joy in Patches' disappointing day is one of my favorite stories to hear again and again. I like to think Grandpa Jim was welcomed to Heaven by many wagging tails and purrs happy to be together again.

+ His singing. Standing in a packed elevator you could always hear Grandpa Jim humming the latest piece his chorus group was working on. Around the holidays he was constantly singing the songs from their big Christmas concert. Oh what I would give to hear that hum just one more time.

+ His active lifestyle. In his youth, Grandpa Jim loved to ride his motorcycle and take his beloved yellow 1972 Porsche out for a cruise. He also enjoyed adventures in kayaking, biking, and taking long walks with his dogs. He never stopped moving and loved being outside. Grandpa Jim took me on my first camping trip during which he taught me with so much patience how to shuffle a deck of cards. It's the little things that mean the most.

+ His generosity. Grandpa Jim is the only man I know who could take such pride in his job of gathering the trash at his senior apartment complex. He was also always volunteering to work at the front desk and befriended nearly every resident and visitor. During my last visit with him at his rehab facility he told me when he got out he was going to volunteer to come back and work the front desk there. Even though he did not understand that he was not going to go back home, he was thinking of how he could give back.

+ His sweet tooth. After family meals, Grandpa Jim would work swiftly to clear everyone's dishes in preparation for a famous Grandma Marge cookie and a scoop of ice cream. Grandma would always tease him about the cookie crumb mess he would leave behind on the table cloth at his place setting. Grandpa just shrugged and grinned at us kids. When I would visit I loved joining my grandma and grandpa for their nightly round of cribbage, not only because it was a fun tradition of theirs they taught to me, but because at some point Grandpa Jim would always slip me a sweet treat.

+ Our simple connection. On our many walks together when I was a little girl, Grandpa Jim never gave me his whole hand to hold, just a single index finger instead. Some things never change. The way Eloise is tenderly looking up at him here is the way I always felt looking up to him too.

Over the past week, as I have reflected on what Grandpa Jim meant to me, a sad reality has hit.

I do not have any grandpas anymore.

My mom and dad no longer share this life with either of their dads.

The thought brings me to tears every single time it creeps back to mind. My family is so fortunate to have had two strong and loving male role models leading us all through a happy life for so long. Getting back to a normal routine after the death of a loved one feels strange and uncomfortable. For me, it (unfortunately) means clorox wipes and M&M rewards as we work on potty training our little girl. In the midst of my whining and worrying, my mom quoted something my Grandpa Jim told her long ago as she whined and worried about potty training me:

"Well I've never seen a kid go to college in diapers. Don't worry about it."

Even in your painful absence, your wisdom, practicality, and love shines down on me, grandpa. Thank you for always showing me what matters the most. I promise to be eager to pass out the cookies for you after dinner next time and maybe even leave a few crumbs behind to make grandma smile too. On every quiet walk with the dog or when a small hand wraps around my finger, I will think of you and smile. I love you.