My earliest memories of my maternal grandfather take place on a brown, velvet couch in a living room carpeted with an ugly green shag rug (Sorry, Mommy. It really was hideous). Against that soft sofa my grandpa would bounce me on his knee, trap me between his legs, say fun little rhymes in his rich baritone, and tickle me. My Grandmother was an expert story teller. During those visits she would spend hours telling me all the details of her life growing up during the depression. Eager for similar stories from Grandpa my sisters and I would saddle up to him and ask for a story. He'd tell the same story every time: "Once upon a time there were three little girls who lived at (I'm not going to write my former address here, but he'd say the whole thing). One day, their Grandpa came to visit them and they said, 'Grandpa! Tell us a story! Tell us a story!' And this is the story Grandpa told: Once upon a time there were three little girls who lived at (my old address). One day, their Grandpa came to visit them and they said, 'Grandpa! Tell us a story! Tell us a story!' And this is the story Grandpa told: Once upon a time there were three little girls..."
"No, Grandpa, not that story! Tell us a real story!"
"Oh, you want a real story?"
"Yeah, tell us a story about when you were little, just like Grandma does."
"Oh, a real story. Okay, well, let's see here. Once upon a time there were three little girls who lived at..."
You get the idea. We hated that story. And we loved it. I guess the thrill of wondering when and if he'd actually cave was part of the draw. Any day we knew it would happen. At any moment we'd break his stubborn shell and get a really juicy story from him. But Grandpa was never caved. For years, that's the only story he gave us, and for years we loved it and hated it. The first time I have a clear memory of him telling me a real story about his childhood was when I was an adult. My husband and I visited Plymouth for a three day weekend had dinner with him at a diner he really liked in town. The memories are vague now, but I remember him telling me what it was like growing up the son of a preacher. That was also where I learned he liked red beets. Weird because up until that point I thought only Pennsylvanians with their weird, German/Pennsylvania Dutch food ate red beets and I'd made fun of my husband for it. Grandpa settled that argument between my red beet-loving husband and me and he is the reason I lost.
Besides the never ending story, Grandpa had this amazing trick. He used to take his finger off. I mean, the finger came right off! I knew that it was actually impossible to do that but I saw Grandpa do it with my own eyes. Over and over again. I'd ask him to repeat the trick and I'd investigate the best I could to find the secret and It really appeared that there was none. Then one, glorious day, I must have been old enough to see behind the magic curtain because he taught me how to take my finger off. It was a great, crowning achievement in my life. To this day I'll think of him and do it. I do it for my daughter. Also, I tell her his favorite story. She loves and hates Grandpa's never ending story just as much as I did when I was her age and she's quite skeptical about whether or not my finger actually severs.
Most of the time, when we visited my grandparents, we just stayed at the house. But I do remember meandering over to Plymouth once in awhile. One time, we went during the summer and we visited Grandpa at the yacht club. He took us out with him while he ferried people to their boats. I remember the salt spray in my hair and my mouth, the restrictive yellow life jacket, and the way Grandpa looked as he guided people across the water. It was a different Grandpa I saw out there on the ocean. His spirit seemed freer without the restrictions of walls or even land.
After those magical visits up to Massachusetts, there was one or two nights that we'd start the 2 1/2 hour drive home listening to the deep, silvery timbre of my Grandpa's voice over the radio and be lulled to sleep by the cadence of it mixing with the motion of the wheels over highway. In those moments between sleep and consciousness I remember thinking that Grandpa was famous because he was on the radio, and he was my Grandpa. Also, it was weird that his voice was familiar and yet different when heard through the proper media of the air waves. Then I blinked and found myself home in my bed in Connecticut and the dream was over until our next magical visit.
My mom hated that Grandpa smoked. When he came over our house he wasn't allowed to do it indoors. Over the course of our visit he'd take his pipe outside two or three times and smoke it along the right side of the house next to the chimney--the same spot every time. Sometimes my father or one of my uncles would accompany him and they'd talk about sports. Sometimes he took Bonnie the Scotty dog out with him, and sometimes he just went out there alone. Many times, though my sisters and I accompanied him. Armed with all the information mom gave us about how smoking kills we'd educate him and he'd sigh and nod and tell us he knew that already or get smart with us and say something about how we really needed to mind our own business. But he put up with us because we were his grand kids. I suspect that's why Mom sent us. Still, though I knew that pipe was bad for him, I secretly loved it. And when I was done lecturing him with all the righteous fervor of a child, I loved just being out there with him talking, playing, and waiting for him to finish that pipe while the sweet smell of his tobacco wafted through the air.
When it was time for college, I packed my bags and moved away and I have lived a 5-8 hour car ride away ever since. Unfortunately, being so far away meant that my visits with my parents' families became fewer and farther between. I was blessed to still see my Grandpa for some Christmases.
Before Grandma died, he'd never had to worry about Christmas presents. While Grandma was still herself, she had very thoughtful presents and a story behind each one. When she was gone, I think Grandpa was just at a loss when it came to Christmas shopping. The first year or two, we all got money. Then, he started putting more effort into it. He'd find an awesome gift--one year it was wind chimes--and he'd buy it. For everyone. One particular year my sisters, my husband and I had seen a snuggie commercial and we made fun of it. It became our inside joke throughout the duration of Dave's and my visit up to Connecticut. We all drove up to Mass to have Christmas with mom's family and I was the first to open Grandpa's gift. It was a snuggie. Then Dave opened his-- also a snuggie. Everyone got snuggies! We all started laughing uncontrollably but we tried to reign it in because we didn't want Grandpa to be offended. He just smiled. Hopefully he thought the laughter was just joy at receiving such a unique present. I don't think anyone ever told him about our inside joke, but I don't make fun of people who own snuggies anymore.
That was the first Christmas we had my daughter, making my Grandpa a great-grandpa. I remember my mom asking him,
"So, how does it feel to be a great-grandfather?"
He responded in his usual, witty way:
"It doesn't make me feel as old as the realization that my daughter is a grandmother!"
Ironically, those first few years away from home I got closer to Grandpa. I think that was mostly due to the profession I chose. I remember how Grandpa's chest puffed a little when I told him I had decided to become a Spanish teacher. He had been a teacher too so this was something we had in common--a new way of connecting outside of the never ending story and the severed finger. He said, "So Becca. I heard you're gonna be a teacher." and he had a twinkle in his eye as he shoved his hands in his pants pockets and bounced forward on the balls of his feet a little bit.
"Yeah, Grandpa. You were a teacher too, weren't you?"
"Oh yeah. You know you can give me a call if you need some advice."
And I did call him. A lot.
"Grandpa, I spend hours planning lessons. This is so hard!"
"Don't worry, it gets better. Once you get the hang of it you won't spend as much time on lessons."
"Grandpa, I have this one class that just won't stop talking! I am sending a kid to the principal's office every day!"
"Well, you could try calling their parents."
"I'm a little terrified to call parents."
"It's not so bad. They're generally on your side."
And then he would talk and talk--more than I'd ever heard him talk before--about his experiences, his students, and how he dealt with similar issues. He was a wealth of knowledge on the subject and still passionate about it even though it had been so long since he taught..
One day when I was overly exasperated with the whole business of it all, Grandpa gave me his best teaching advice ever.
"Now Becca, what you really need to do is get a cod fish and put it in your desk drawer at school."
"A cod fish? Really?"
"Yes. A cod fish. When a kid is really acting up you wanna take him out of the classroom to somewhere secluded. Then you beat the h--- out of him with the cod fish. The kid will go to the principal and say, 'Mr. E--- just beat me with a cod fish!' The principal will think he's crazy, kick him out of school, and your problem is solved."
I can't tell you how often I've wished I could actually follow through on that one!
Honestly, I don't remember much of the specifics of his advice anymore, just the general calm I felt when I talked to him and he assured me with his time-tested wisdom that I was doing a great job and on the right track. He was such an amazing resource and I was so thankful to be able to connect with him in this new way.
The summer after my first year of teaching (ah what a feeling of accomplishment!) a couple of my friends and I visited him and we talked a lot about our lives and his. We put some music on and he danced with me. And we asked about his "retirement."
"Grandpa, if you're retired why do you still work?" I asked. He mentioned something about keeping busy and how he loved his job, then pointed to a panoramic view of the ocean hanging on the wall.
"Besides, this is my office," he commented. I bent closer to investigate the picture and understood why he continued to work there. I might work my whole life at the yacht club too if I could.
I got better at teaching, more confident. I also had kids and became busier. Our phone calls became fewer and far between and focused more on my children or his job at the yacht club. I wish I had kept calling him often, but life happened. It always does. I became busy trying to fit diapers, Goodnight Moon, and potty training in between my Spanish classes and sleep and since these are times where my "To Do" list is never quite checked off, I often didn't get to calling Grandpa. Just a month or two ago I felt like I should call him, and I meant to. But I didn't. I wish I had but life happened and then it was too late. I should have listened to that still small voice in my heart because it would have been our last conversation and God knew that.
Now since I'm a teacher, I can't just stop my story there. I would be remiss if I didn't give a moral to it, something for you to take home and apply to your lives. As I think about death every time it comes to those I love most, i can't help but think of king Solomon. He was blessed by God with both wisdom and riches and he was able to get to the top of the economic ladder, so to speak, and look down and see life with a clarity that most of us miss as we run on life's treadmill. He wrote about these observations in the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. Chapter 7:2 stands out to me particularly on this occasion. Here King Solomon says:
" It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart."
In the house of feasting, it's easy to just live in the moment and forget the meaning of life. I think that's why Solomon says this--he wants us to stop and really think about the meaning of it all. Here we are in a house of mourning. We are looking back on Doug Edwards' life and seeing what really mattered and what didn't. What doesn't make an impression on me is how busy he was or how much money he made or the important people he knew. I don't remember the clothes he wore or the scores of the football or baseball games he liked to watch (though he probably would). What I remember are the moments where we connected--the phone calls, the stories, the silly Christmas gifts, the tickles, and the laughter. I remember the moments where Grandpa made me feel special.
One last time through my Grandpa's house to say goodbye. I will miss him so much.