When I was 12 years old, I was innocently hanging out with my friends at school when I was told my Grandpa had suddenly died. I was devastated.
His was the first death I remember experiencing. Since I am the same age as he was when he died, I can’t help but consider how we are similar and yet different.
This wasn’t his first heart attack; he struggled with his weight had high blood pressure, and I remember my Grandmother getting mad with him for cheating on his low-sodium diet. Her frequent meals of fried chicken, potatoes and gravy, and her famous and mysteriously emptying cookie jar probably didn’t help.
I spent at least a week with Grandma and Grandpa every summer. It was a highlight to have time alone with them.
During the day when Grandpa was at work, I would help Grandma garden, pulling weeds, shucking peas, picking raspberries, and spitting watermelon seeds.
Every evening, I’d kiss my grandpa g-night, and grandma tucked me into bed in the extra room above the living room. I could hear the TV below play Lawrence Welk, and I’d receive my nightly torture from the smell of fresh popcorn wafting up through the vent.
The differences between Grandpa and me likely began very early in life. Grandpa was four when his father died. As the only male in the house, he started providing for his household early with his mom and grandma. He didn’t earn a high school education and never settled into a career, contributing to lifelong financial instability.
I was blessed to have both of my parents, who continue to be a big part of my life. They achieved Master’s degrees that pulled them out of family poverty over time.
My Grandpa’s greatest dream was to own a home, but he never did. Thomas and I happily paid off our mortgage last spring.
I didn’t understand why Grandpa would get so upset with me when I didn’t care for my shoes. He always wanted me to use a shoehorn for my nice Sunday shoes. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that even buying shoes for him was extravagant. He wore size 13, and I’m sure the few pairs of brown shoes he owned were costly.
If you knew my Grandpa, you’d know he loved to fish. Not once-in-a-while kinda fish but every vacation and spare moment kinda fish.
Many hours we’d sit in the boat, on the dock, or by the dam, and I was convinced his fishing magic would rub off on me. More often, it resulted in me just drowning worms. 🎣 I don’t know if he was a good fisherman, a lucky fisherman, or it was only in my eyes that I imagined him that way.
Maybe we were alike by the quietness of our day together.
There were more ways we were different.
My Grandpa didn’t go to yoga class, meditate, or do a loving Tantra practice with Grandma. “Exercise” was a word that didn’t cross his lips. And I never saw him join Grandma as she tried to keep up with Jack LaLanne.
He’d sit drinking his morning coffee, smoking his cigarettes, reading the newspaper, and complain about the news.
My mom and her sisters would say complaining was one of his pastimes. Maybe, that’s where my mom got her mantra, “Life is hard.” I still struggle with falling into that oppressive mindset instead of seeing the amazing life I’ve been given. More than ever, I can now see the magnificence of this world. I wonder if he ever noticed?
On March 10th, 1972, he joined his buddies on a Minnesota lake ice fishing, and he was happy. With the cold fresh air and the anticipation of what he could catch, he fell to the ice with his last words, “heart attack.” Grandpa died doing what he loved. I hope I am like him in that way.
For both of us, family is important. We love to laugh, be outdoors, and have big feet.
Grandpa brought me a lot of joy. I can still see his big smile, feel his comforting embrace, and I eat popcorn 🍿 most nights.
By Sara B