What is your favorite memory of a grandparent?
Last week I told you about my Grandma Flo, and today I get to tell you about her husband. My Grandpa Joe:
Mom and Grandpa Joe in 1990, about a year before he passed away.
I wish I could tell you I remember a lot about my Grandpa Joe before he got Alzheimer’s, but most of my vivid memories are after it started affecting him and they moved into town from the farm.
My siblings talk more about his dog Duke and playing in the barns, but most of what I remember from the farm were little things inside the house. I remember Grandma telling us not to play upstairs, but I loved sneaking up there because I was mesmerized by the glass door handles that I thought looked like diamonds. And I remember the grates on the floors that were the warmest place to stand in my red buckle shoes during cold winters that were more suited for boots.
But even though I don’t remember as much about the old days with my Grandpa as my siblings, I love the sweet memories I have after he got sick. He was very warm and tender, and would hold my hand and call me his girl when I would sit with him. And he taught me that food is so much better layered together, as he would take his mashed potatoes, carefully place the dip in the middle where he would slather on the milk gravy, and top it off with corn.
Not going to lie. My mouth just watered a bit as I was typing that. Yum.
And while he would tell the same story repeatedly, as many as 15 times right in a row, I think they were better stories because he wasn’t as inhibited due to the Alzheimer’s. My favorite story he told was when his mother would have him and his brother go out to catch a chicken to have for dinner. He’d tell me how they worked so hard doing their chores that they didn’t want to give up one of their own chickens. Then he’d start in on the elaborate tale of sneaking over to the neighbor’s farm and trying to be quiet while they stole a chicken out of their coop.
The key to the story was always the ending, though... when it turned out their mom had invited the neighbors over and they never realized they ate their own chicken at that dinner!
The only part of the storytelling I hated were the brief moments when he’d have a flicker of recognition after telling it a few times, and ask me if he had already told it to me. But I always told him he hadn’t, that I was anxious to hear how it turned out. And that smirk would come back as he’d get to the punch line. I still wonder if the story was true, or if he just enjoyed being ornery and seeing my reaction. :)
One of my most beautiful memories is getting to be with Grandpa on the day he passed away. It was the summer I had graduated from high school and was getting ready to head to college. He had been in the hospital after surgery, with my mom and her sisters all taking turns being with him and Grandma. It was an afternoon I had off of work and I sat with him while the others had a break. He had done pretty well, but was beginning to confuse me for his own mother, and then became agitated... wanting to take out his IV and leave. I had called Mom and told her I wasn’t sure what to do, and when she came up it was discovered that he had gotten pneumonia after the surgery.
All of his children came and he died later that night, but the time in between calling Mom there and his actual death was truly beautiful. It was my first experience of being with someone when they died, and the faith of the people in that room – loving and caring for him – was so impactful. At one point, after Grandpa had been unconscious for a bit, we were all gathered around his bed praying. A priest, who was a close family friend, was leading us in the rosary when we could suddenly hear Grandpa Joe faintly saying the prayers with us in German... just as he had prayed those prayers as a little boy.
I remember learning that night what an impact prayer can have. The impact of being so faithful to prayer in daily life over the years that it was second nature to a man - even in his ill state, even with his mind escaping him - during the final moments of his earthly life. The impact on a family when faith filled the room, even when some of the members there might not have had that strong faith in their lives at the time. The impact on a young girl who saw that there is more beyond this life, that Spirit can fill a place as cold as a hospital room and warm the grieving people in it.
So, when you ask me my favorite memory of my Grandpa Joe, it’s more than the sweet and ornery stories he told, or the way he ate his potatoes, or the tender moments of mistaking me for loved ones who had passed on long ago. My favorite memory is of him praying the rosary in a German tongue, and teaching his granddaughter that prayer is a constant to rely on and rest in.
Daily and faithfully.