Thursday, January 03, 2008

I'll miss you, Gramps!

He taught me how to play poker, blackjack, and rummy, and he was never far from the Keno board in a casino. Grandpa and Grandma spent many vacations in Reno and Las Vegas, usually staying at the Fitzgerald. Most of the time they came home ahead. Grandpa taught me to keep my cards up, to watch the other players to see if they were bluffing, and he'd rat Grandma out of she was bluffing while we played, too. New Year's Eve just wasn't the same if my parents, sister, and I weren't over at Grandma and Grandpa's playing card games until midnight, eating Chex Mix, smoked cheddar cheese, and crackers piled high with summer sausage. I had a feeling that 2008 would be the last year he'd see, and I was right.

Grandpa passed away peacefully yesterday evening with Grandma, Mom, and my aunt at his side. He was 77 years old. His Parkinson's Disease and Alzheimer's made him unable to be with us much this last year, and while I didn't visit him as often as I probably should have, I know he wouldn't have known me anyway.

Mom and Dad let my sister and me spend many nights with our grandparents while we were growing up. Besides honing our card-counting skills, we'd spend time watching Grandpa and Grandma cook. Visiting our grandparents meant coming home with a belly full of good, home-cooked, and often home-grown food. Grandpa's garden was always the biggest. At their old house, they had cherry trees. We could eat as many as we wanted, and we did. The trees also made great hiding spots for Easter eggs in the spring. My grandparents canned all sorts of odd vegetables, made their own bread, and baked lots of wonderful cookies. Some of the recipes were old... many were traditional German recipes with names I couldn't pronounce.

When we spent the night with them, my sister and I would always ask for "frog legs" for breakfast. Grandpa would grin, get out his Bisquick, mix it up really fast, and he'd pour out some stripes in a hot pan. "Frog legs" were soon on our plates covered in maple syrup. Pancakes, to be certain, and I forget how they earned the name "frog legs," but somehow it stuck. Sometimes we got Mickey Mouse pancakes with big ears. Sometimes we got silver-dollar-sized ones. "Frog legs" were always the best.

Once lunch rolled around, there was no question what we'd eat. Grandpa would open two boxes of macaroni and cheese and fix them. He'd open a jar of applesauce and then placed it on the table as if it were waiting for the rest of the meal to arrive. We'd load up our plates with as much room as possible between the applesauce and macaroni and cheese, but no matter how hard we tried, they always ran together in the middle. Grandpa laughed at us. He pushed his food around on his plate and got everything "all flavored up." My sister, not believing it could be good, tried it. She liked it, too. I gave it a taste. You know what? It didn't kill me. Ever since then (probably fifteen years ago), I've been mixing the two. It's good.

I have so many good memories of Grandpa. I remember him asking us to play the piano for him time and again. He loved to hear his grandchildren play his favorite hymns. He was a good singer, and I think I heard him whip out his accordion more than once. He may have also played the harmonica, but I don't remember.

Grandpa loved John Wayne movies, fishing, and making rubber stamps. More than once, I sat with him as he re-inked a dried-up ink pad or assembled a new stamp on his Linotype machine. He let me help him make the stamps once he got a new, high-tech machine. Sometimes I'd set the stamps or put them in boxes, and other times I'd sit and we'd talk.

Grandpa was the best at tickling. He always knew the right spots to hit, and he figured out how to make it tickle long after he'd stopped moving his fingers. His laugh, probably above everything else, is the one thing I hope I don't forget. Unique, warm, and genuine, Grandpa's laugh made everyone happy.

More than cooking, or music, or work, family was most important to Grandpa. My grandparents instilled that value into their children, and that message got passed down loud and clear to my cousins and me. Now, as we remember Grandpa, we find comfort in each other. We know he lived a long, happy life, and his passing means he's no longer suffering.

Grandpa: I don't think I'll ever eat macaroni and cheese and applesauce without thinking about you. Thanks for all the poker games, walks down to the park, and for singing along while I played the piano. I'll miss you.

1 comment:

Jeff w said...

Your Grandpa sounds like a great guy- lots of fun memories.