I’m in a weird spot, and it seems so strange to me. My grandfather died about a week or so ago, and with him went an entire generation.
My family is young, or maybe perhaps we have good genes. I don’t know. When I was a kid, my great-great grandmother lived long enough for me to remember her. My great grandfather stayed with us long enough for me to be able to tell you the smaller details of his world.
When we lay my grandfather in his final resting place tomorrow, he will be surrounded by the love of his two children, three grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren. May I be so lucky to be this blessed at the end of my days.
But that’s not what’s weirding me out. What’s weirding me out is that I am grandparent-less. With my grandfather’s passing, I have lost an entire generation of my family tree. Now I know that being the age I am, I got lucky. This doesn’t happen to most people. It still doesn’t make it less weird for me.
I’m going through my grandfather’s house slowly. When my grandmother passed, we did go through her things but he was still there. Those things were part of the life he built, they were still his. Now, there will be a house to close up, and everything will have to be sorted.
I was telling a friend that it is the oddest thing to miss a person, but be completely surrounded by them. My grandfather’s death was unexpected. He got a longer life than planned, so we are thankful. However, he died very much in the middle of his busy day. His house is still in working order, there was even a fresh new cake in the refrigerator to have for a treat. As I sat in his office, I expected him to come through the door at any moment. It wouldn’t have surprised me one bit.
As my mother pulled photos for his memorial service and I looked through them, I found this one. This is the only picture I know of with all four of my grandparents. Taken at a birthday party about six months before I was born, they had been in-laws and the best of friends for about a half of decade already. My mother and father were high school sweethearts and for better or for worse these four people are the founders of my tribe.
And now they only exist in stories. That is the saddest thing in the world to me.
Good thing they left behind a storyteller. I will sprinkle their names in my books. I will share their best sayings in my dialogs. The world will know the pieces of them that I hold closest to my heart.
But for now, I thought I would introduce you to the original Fantastic Four.
The man on the far right is my father’s father. He looks Southern, doesn’t he? I know you can’t hear his sweet drawl when you look at this picture, but I can. I can smell the cigar smoke in his clothes, in the air. I lost him first, those damn cigars. But before he left me, he made sure he was a man who would never be forgotten. He was a former Mr. Universe bodybuilder, and hands down the strongest man I knew. In his later years, he owned a restaurant famous for its Steak and Ribs. His Steak and Ribs, he has truly ruined me for life when it comes to a plate of good Ribs. But the memory that sticks in my mind the most is walking into the kitchen of that restaurant and seeing this giant of a man in his crisp white chef uniform with a plastic apron on top which was covered in fresh blood. A butcher knife in his hand and a smile on his face. This was the face of love to me. His employees revered him, and I adored him. He taught me that if you work hard, you can do any damn thing that you want to do. But you have to work hard. Make no excuse. Dig down deep and get it done. There is nothing in this world that you can’t have.
The woman to next to him is my mother’s mother. This woman ruled our family with an iron fist until the day she died. I lost her next. Her voice is the one I hear when I have to deal with this silly little thing I call life. All the mom sayings that I tell my children come from her: Lies will always catch up with you. Don’t worry, everything will come out in the wash. Only by the grace of God go I. The little voice in your head telling you not to do something is Jesus because he knows…he knows even when Mommy doesn’t. And my personal favorite; Don’t you take no shit from anybody. She was the one that taught me that when I’m right to dig in my heals and stand tall. And when I’m wrong, pay my debts.
The fiery redhead next to her is my father’s mother. Remember when I said this photo was taken about six months before I was born? Yup, she screams Grandma, doesn’t she? She was one of the greatest loves of my life. Her southern accent was so thick my poor husband could never understand a word she was saying. It was ridiculous to a hilarious degree. She was life personified, if that could ever be a thing. She’d burst into a room ready to party. She’d hug you so hard your ribs would crack and she’d steal a kiss and exclaim, “Give me some sugar, Sugar!” Every damn moment with her was an adventure. She lived in a huge house with an emerald green spiral staircase and a pink chandelier in the bathroom because why not? Life is meant to be lived, baby! She was my Go Big, or Go Home Grandma. But…she always sat me down and asked me what my plan was. You always have to be ready. You always need a plan. You always have to know that when you jump, it’s gonna be good. She listened to every plan. Every task on my to-do list, and she’d ask questions. She really listened to me. And she never stopped dreaming. The last conversation I had with her, we talked about what she’d do if she won the lottery. Such plans, that one….
And then there was Pop. He loved me first, he left my last. My mother’s father and my first love. Can you see the handsome guitar player? Can you hear his deep smooth voice singing beautifully to a sick nine-year-old little girl with the Chicken Pox? He made my world right. He taught me that nothing is ever truly broken. He loved gadgets and gizmos and was convinced he had invented things long before they were invented. The thing is, he probably did. His basement is full of the weirdest most fascinating doodads. He taught me to never give up on anything. He was the one who showed me how to skate, how to ride a bike, how to drive. There was never a toy he couldn’t fix, he was magic to me. He was the one, most of all, who told me that life is meant to be figured out. Make it work for you.
All the good parts of me came from these four people. I want to remember them always.