When I think of who reminds me of my Grandpa, I get a weird mix of John Wayne and C.S Lewis, possibly with a bit of Clark Gable thrown in. Odd combination? Probably. But I love him anyway.
One of the best things about transferring to my new university is the close proximity to my grandfather's house. For years my Grandpa has sort of been a character in a letter--someone my mom tells stories about, writes me letters, sends me checks for every birthday--you know, someone I dearly love but don't really know all that much about. Not to mention he's 95. I mean, what could we possibly have in common?
Well, actually a lot. I started coming over to clean up his house more often last year and what ended up happening is I would get stuck in a comfy chair and listened with rapt attention to his stories. He would tell me random stories about his youth, usually ones that had popped into his head because something reminded him of it. There was one where he swiped his uncle's grenade, filled it with gunpowder, and set it off in the middle of the road. That caused a large crater which the local farmers scratched their heads about, wondering what on earth was up with the soil erosion lately. There was another how he met my grandmother on horse-back, asked her out dancing that night, and promptly got stinking drunk. My grandmother told him in no uncertain terms that she never wanted to see him again. We see how well that worked out.
And I realized talking to my Grandpa that I actually do have a heck of a lot in common with him. We both love crossword puzzles--I always get the pop culture references and he gets the random ones so working together we can finish it in under twenty minutes. We're both mad about milk--that's probably where I got my deep love of all things dairy. We have very similar senses of humor.
Another wonderful thing about spending this much time with him is really getting to know him and understanding his moods and personality. For instance, even though he's 95, he HATES being helped around. He doesn't care that it takes him five minutes to get up from his comfy chair, he'll do it himself and you will wait patiently, darn it! I go out to breakfast with him every Saturday morning (ugh, generally in the wee hours of the morning when God isn't even up yet) and I always offer to drive to the diner where we eat and he always refuses. He's a stubborn old coot.
One of my personal habits is every Saturday morning, when I get up around 5:30 (ugh......) I always dress up. Sometimes I wear a dress, I put on makeup, never forget the heels...I think it amuses Grandpa when we walk in the diner and all the old timers hoot at me and ask Grandpa where on earth he picked up such a classy broad. Hee hee...I'd be more offended if they weren't all over 70.
And lately I've realized how much I love my grandfather. Before I moved into my house, while I was still staying with some friends of my parents, I decided to stop by his house and say hi. I was driving down 750 north, an old county road, when I saw an ambulance with its lights on driving down the opposite direction. Being the good little driver I am, I pulled over and waited for it to pass me.
But it didn't pass me.
It backed into my Grandpa's driveway.
At this point, I very nearly had a heart attack. Completely forgetting my car, I opened my door and tore down the road, running about half a mile. I saw two ambulance personnel unloading a stretcher.
"W-what's going on? What's happening? Is he okay?" I cried but they didn't answer me. At this point, I was very near hysterical tears.
It was here when Betty (my grandpa's 89 year old girlfriend...yes, my 95 year old grandfather has a girlfriend. Just cuz he's old doesn't mean he's dead.) came towards me, telling me to calm down and the he was all right. He just hadn't eaten much last night or this morning and had been coughing a little so she had decided to jump the gun and call the ambulance to make sure he didn't have pneumonia. Grandpa seemed ok too, if not a little dazed and probably annoyed at all the fuss. I swallowed my hysterics and went into his bedroom to call my father and mother.
I explained the situation to my mother, who told me she was glad that I was there, at the very least. That though she was two states away from her father, at least she had me to make sure everything was okay. My dad talked to me too, and sensed how distressed I was. He told me I needed to keep it together, because I was the only real family around that Grandpa and my mom could count on. My Aunt was in Nashville, my cousin, who I'll call Cake, cuz she loves the band, was working and lived in Indianapolis--I was the closest. I realized my father was right. Even though I wanted nothing more to crawl into my Granddad's closet and sob hysterically out of fear and relief, my family needed me.
So, I grabbed a few of my Grandpa's books. I called my parents friends who I was staying with, who I'll call Fiona and Tom, to let them know the situation. I walked back to my car and drove to the hospital. And there I stayed with my grandfather for about four hours while they ran tests. The prognosis was that my grandfather had a slight bout of bronchitis and was severely dehydrated. They put him on antibiotics and gave him several pamphlets about getting enough fluids. It was here I became very nazi-like in watching how much water my Grandpa drinks. He doesn't mind--I think he finds it amusing. When I told him he had to finish his water before leaving the restaurant, he commented dryly to the waitress, "She's the boss."
A little about Betty--don't get me wrong, I love her to pieces. My biological grandmother died when I was about one year old, so Betty is the only real grandmotherly figure I've ever had. She's taken care of my grandfather for years and I dearly, dearly love her and am eternally grateful. I believe she saved his life when he had pneumonia two winters ago.
But the woman drives me crazy.
My dad once said that when she gets to Heaven, she'll be arguing with God about how He runs things. My dad's not far off. Betty is very high-spirited and very...oh, I'll just say it. She's damned bossy and very controlling. This has caused her to butt heads with me, as I am also kind of controlling and a little bossy, and ESPECIALLY with my dad. She's also a little critical. And she also likes my cousin Cake better than me. She tends to go on and on about how much Cake is helping my grandpa, how hard Cake has it, how clever Cake is and how hard Cake works--this would be fine if I didn't already have a deep-seated insecurity when it came to my darling cousin. Don't get me wrong, I love my cousin. We're blood. She's only a year older than me, we've always gotten along, and I'd say we're pretty good friends. But I've always felt insecure when it comes to her. Cake is blonde, I'm brunette. Cake has lovely blue-green eyes, I have boring dark brown eyes. Cake learned guitar before I did and was in a bigger band than I was and played much larger gigs. Cake has a Perfect Boyfriend, something I've never had and don't really plan on picking up anytime soon. Cake also has a thorough knowledge of home improvement--stuff like sanding tables, painting, electric knowledge, etc. She is quite at home at Home Depo whereas I wander aimlessly and call my dad to help me pick out the right kind of nail. I've always felt that Cake was the original, better model and I was the cheap knockoff.
All this I can ignore--most of it I've gotten pretty much over as the years have gone by. I've pretty much come to the realization that Cake and I are very different people and we both have merit and worth in our own ways. My Grandpa knows this too.
But when Betty tends to start going on and on and on about how wonderful Cake is, it tends to strike at that insecurity again. For instance, see this convo:
Betty: So, do you have everything out of the sunroom? (I was using my Grandpa's sunroom as storage for most of my stuff during the summer--he offered, insisting that we shouldn't have to pay a storage locker when we could just use his place.)
Me: Mostly, I think I just have a nightstand and a few boxes left that I haven't had time to grab.
Betty: (in a very superior almost snotty tone) Well, you better get that stuff out now, because Cake wants to reorganize and clean that area up and she can't do that if your things are lying about.
It's here I'd like to say once again how much I love my Grandpa. He waited until Betty had left and then turned to me and promptly said, "I just want you to know, you are very welcome to use my house as storage whenever you like. I don't care, and Cake doesn't care. It just burns Betty up that you do but it's not her house, it's mine and I say you can use it whenever and however you like."
My Grandpa's not really the emotional type. It took about four months of my constant visits for him to say he loved me right before I left and he still doesn't say it that often. I don't care, I've learned to read in between the lines. This was my Grandpa's way of saying that I wasn't burdening him, he loved me as ME, not as my cousin and didn't consider her better than me at all. Which was exactly what I needed to hear.
In closing, I know my Grandpa won't be around forever. But I also know how blessed I am to have him for the time I've had and will have.