It was 105 days before my first child was expected to be born. It was a Sunday. A Sunday in August. My grandfather, Manuel F.G., had just celebrated his 83rd birthday on the first. Two weeks following his 83rd birthday…
Rewind to the Friday before. Friday, August 14, 2015. I was working at Apple Inc. when I noticed a Facebook post by my brother, William O.P. II, stating that my grandfather was falling ill and that my brother would be working from home to monitor my grandfather. Fast forward to that night. I was at home, I texted my mom, Mary E.P. for updates. I had asked before if I needed to go up to their house from my place in Austin. She declined my need to be present until much later that night when she sent a text message that he may not make it.
“If you got leavin’ on your mind / Tell me now, get it over / Hurt me now, get it over / If you got leavin’ on your mind….Don’t leave me in a world / Filled with dreams that might have been” ~ Patsy Cline, “Leavin’ On Your Mind”.
After work the next day, I drove up to Leander to visit my grandfather. They said he was in much better shape and continued to talk of how he may pull through it all, once again. It was reminiscent of his first major bout with pneumonia around 2009.
I’m never great when it comes to fully exposing your true, unclothed, unclad, and completely vulnerable emotions. I have also kept my feelings, for the most part, inside. I could probably count the number of times I have allowed myself to be completely vulnerable on one, maybe two, hands. Sometimes, my inability to show emotions worries me. Why are others so easily able to open up, to be vulnerable, to seek comfort. It’s for this reason that I feel I am also horrible at consoling others, at least in a non-analytical, non-professional, non-psychoanalytical kind of way.
It wasn’t until later that I would recall my emotions a few short years ago during my grandmother’s passing. How I was void of emotion during that time. Most of my emotion during that time was had as I drove to and from her funeral in Evergreen, Alabama from Seymour, Tennessee. I was lucky to be living so close at the time. Had other decisions been made, I may have been too far away.
I saw my mother open up. I saw my brother and sister open up and even console my mother. I stood back. I kept my distance. I knew what had happened. I knew, I felt that I knew my grandfather would understand. I felt that he knew everything that was in my mind. I didn’t feel that I needed to kneel by his side and touch him then. I felt he was still there in some sort of spiritual, ethereal, or celestial way, in an ephemeral way. I couldn’t console anyone. In under four years, I had seen the passing of my remaining two grandparents.
“I guess that’s when I understood what my grandfather had been trying to explain to me. That my life was bigger than the little neighborhood I lived in. And that these strangers who surrounded me, weren’t just relatives, they were my family. And the death of one affected each of us in some way” ~ The Wonder Years, S3:E14.
I was a pallbearer at my grandmother’s funeral. I was unprepared then and I am unprepared now. I didn’t speak at all during my grandmother’s funeral. There wasn’t really a time to speak. When I think of my grandfather’s memorial….
How do you tell people of your fondest, happiest, most memorable moments of another person when, looking back on your life, that person was a mainstay? That was my grandfather. He passed away on August 16, 2015, at my parents’ home – where he had been living since 2009, after his first major bout with pneumonia.
He had recently returned from a trip to visit my sister in Germany. This would be one of the last true trips he would take. He was known for the phrase, “I’ve got sand in my shoes,” as we would infer that he could impart wisdom and knowledge from his age and travels. In some ways, my grandfather was my own Jack Kerouac – He would often tell stories of leaving his base assignment for the weekend with his thumb in the air with the only expectation to arrive back on base in time for duty.
I learned through the years how he would come to meet his wife, who would pass away a few years before my sister’s and my birth due to cancer. My mother, in many ways, became my grandfather’s confidant – even if he would never admit to it. A great amount of my childhood would be guided by the passing of his wife and his later medical ailments.
I have known my grandfather for nearly 27 years and he, like my parents, have been a major influence in my life. I believe, as I do with my parents, that I never quite reached the level of success that he expected for me. At least, not yet. In my mind, I believe I will be successful and significant. As I said, it’s hard to say that one particular memory is more important than another when it comes to my grandfather. For most of my life I have lived nearby, next door, or even in the same home as my grandfather. Even when he lived a state away, he was not far.
One of my earliest memories of my grandfather was when he visited my family at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. It was my birthday. I must have been about four years old at the time. By the time I was five, my grandfather had his first major heart surgery and required the introduction of a pacemaker. I wonder how life would have been had this not occurred.
My family liked to make home videos. I assume most families do to some extent, but I have a suspicion that my siblings and I became a bit infatuated with the camera as my mom would take videos of us while my father was deployed overseas. The videos would then be sent to him for viewing while he was away. There is a particular home video that was recorded when I was very young. I recall seeing it when I was a bit older, but still in elementary school. I hated it.
My mother brought my siblings and me to Flat Rock, Alabama to visit my grandfather while she was completing school work. You could tell that she was stressed with all of the work she had to complete, but would still push it aside to answer our questions, often asking my pre-teen brother to play with me and my sister to give her time to compete her work. My grandfather took me aside to entertain me, but I threw a fit about him blowing up a latex glove into a balloon.
As described in the home movie, doctors use to give me a glove to play with when I went for exams. Judging from the video, I was upset about my grandfather blowing up the glove and threw this fit. I recall being somewhat frightened by my grandfather. I recall my mother telling me as I got older that he was a bit harsh and that, had her mother still been around, he would’ve been a bit milder. Regardless, it’s probably the only home video that can make me red in the face and want to cry – even when I was a child. I knew my grandfather was trying to be nice, but I was merely a toddler. I never was able to truly apologize for how I acted. I also remember the holidays spent with my grandfather. Especially when we lived next door to him. His favorite song, Ella Fitzgerald‘s “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”
While we may have lived nearby, next door, or even with my grandfather, I don’t know that I was ever able to convey to him the way I truly felt. He taught me many things, probably without really meaning to or knowing it. I still struggle with the lessons he taught me and may always struggle to live up to the person he thought or hoped I would be. Let’s examine a few of these, shall we?
I’ll start with music. As most know, music and film are just about my favorite mediums of human life. I remember riding in his cars and trucks, which he loved with a passion, and he would tell me to listen closely, that “this was good music.” Patsy Cline would play. At my young age, I was not thrilled with Patsy Cline. I was still much more a Beach Boys kid. My mother brought me up on what we called the “Oldies.” That’s what I liked, then more modern Country and Country-Pop music. Not this big band, very vocal type of music from before the country was founded. All in jest.
I most always ascribe my musical tastes with my brother, but had my grandfather not introduced me to Patsy Cline and the like, would I have had an opened mid enough to accept other artists into my repertoire? Would I care a thing about Neil Young, Carole King, or others?
Film. He had his hand here, as well. I remember staying with him and him telling me about “great” movies – They were almost always black and white, many times they had to do with war or the military, but there was the occasional historical film about one invention or the other. In fact, had it not been for my grandfather, I may never have seen Evita. Surprising? A bit. To this day, I enjoy a good night of old films. Sometimes, black and white is just right. I wish I could remember some of the movies. I know there was one about the first car to have headlights that would move with the steering wheel. Which, not too long ago, another automaker attempted to redesign.
This brings me to my grandfather and vehicles. As I was closing in on the driving age, he would talk about his first car and his favorite cars. He printed out a picture for me of his first Studebaker. I hung it on the wall of my bedroom. He even offered to give me his red Mazda truck that he had since the late 80s. I was interested till I heard that the engine had already been replaced and the breaks didn’t quite work. The fact that it was a manual pretty much eliminated that. I didn’t learn how to drive a manual until I was about 18, though my father tried to teach me a few times while I was younger. I’m still not great at it. But, if you’re looking to burn your clutch, I might be your guy. I hated having to take people on test drives in manuals when I was a car salesman. Regardless, to this day, I wonder what it would have been like had I taken him up on the offer.
My grandfather, along with my uncles, taught me that a vehicle was more than just a mode of transportation. It was more than a piece of equipment to get you from point A to point B. It was an extension of yourself. That along with my father’s trust in a certain manufacturer is why I found myself go from a Hyundai to a Nissan. Then to a Volkswagen. My grandfather would be disappointed in how I have treated my Volkswagen Passat. I treated his Volkswagen Cabrio much better, though it is much older. I learned automotive and mechanical theory from him and my stint working for General Motors. I learned what little I know about fixing a car from my father, though I diagnosed a fuel pump issue in my grandfather’s Jeep Grand Cherokee before my father or my uncle, Manny. I doubt either of them would admit it, if they even remember. A vehicle is the second largest purchase a person will make after their house, or so that’s what we said in the automobile sales industry – I may argue that it’s close to that of a college education. This is why we must take care in our assessment of our purchase and our ownership of the vehicle. While we accept 7 years or 70,000 miles as the lifespan of an “American” vehicle, with true care we can expand this greatly (Dearest, Zoey, German vehicles are expected to last much longer). The truck my grandfather offered me was nearly 20 years old at the time. It still has the original paint job. It still sits at my parents’ house, nearly 30 years after its original purchase.
“Some gifts are simple. Some come at a price. Some you buy for a buck. And last you a lifetime. I guess everybody remembers their first car. I know I remember mine. Not because it was my first car… but because it was my grandfather’s last” ~ The Wonder Years, S5:E12.
It was with his love of sports and enjoyment of watching sports that he would pass down his favorite teams to me. All northeastern teams, I would expand this to include: Boston Red Sox, New England Patriots, Boston Celtics, Boston Bruins, and the like.
My grandfather also taught me logic, problem solving, and management skills at a young age. I remember painting his porch in Daleville, Alabama. He walked out to supervise the progress, in that way that we are all familiar with – That supervisory dissatisfaction on his face. A simple question, “Why did you do it this way?” followed by an, “If you had done it this way, you wouldn’t be stuck.”
I always had an odd relationship with animals growing up. I never knew how I should treat them – as pets, as workers, or as merely lowly beings. We moved away from Daleville because I was attached to the litter that our dog Purdy, a bluetick coonhound mix, had. My grandfather didn’t like that they had taken up residence under his home in the cool, red Alabama clay. Yet, he always had a companion animal. There was Millie, then her daughter Mitzie. Mitzie’s passing hit him hard. Luckily, my sister’s Chihuahua, Goliath, helped to replace that hole that was left by Mitzie’s passing. But, as my grandfather fell more ill, the more he became concerned about dogs. He did say, on more than one occasion that my dog, Argos, was a good dog. A big dog, but a good dog. Ultimately, I think my grandfather recognized the need of a companion animal. It may have been my father or uncles who pushed for the expectation of a working animal or no animal at all – though they would all play with any animal that came near them and most pets seemed to prefer their male presence.
My grandfather taught me about love and family. Anyone can tell you about how my grandfather met his wife, Mary J.H. – whose name was passed to my sister. Anyone can tell you the type of father he was. I guarantee he was much stricter then than he was in the last years of his life. Sure, he enjoyed a mental challenge or a challenge of wits. He never lost himself, though he may have become quickly confused he was always able to construct an argument that could not be refuted. He and my parents proved that love and family were possible. In an age where this became more and more unbelievable, they proved, time and time again, that constant and persistent love and family were possible. He continued to push for his grandchildren.
In the year of his death, merely eight months before, I was asked by my company at the time to move to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Being in my mid-twenties, and not entirely financially stable, I voiced my concerns to my parents about logistics and finances. Within days, he had offered to pay my way and put me up for a few months until I could get on my feet in the Pennsylvania or New Jersey area. It wasn’t just me, he wanted to see all of his grandchildren succeed. At that very moment, he noticed that this could have been my chance. I’d be in the geographical area that I had dreamed of since I was a teenager, I would be closer to his home than ever, and I had a girl that was willing to follow. But I was unwilling to accept that type of offer from him – among other reasons.
Knowing what I know now, I’m glad I didn’t make that move. Had I moved, I may have lost more than Nicole. I would have lost my grandfather, without being nearby; I would’ve lost Nicole; and my daughter-to-be, Zoey, would have possibly never been born. My grandfather may have never had the thought that he would be a great-grandfather.
There’s so much I want to write and say about my grandfather. There’s no way that this entry or this page could ever hold it all.
“And for some reason, maybe the way he said it, I began to understand. He wasn’t giving me an order. My dad, was asking me for help. That morning, as I stood with the man who was my father… The son of my grandfather, the man who would one day be the grandfather of my sons…I realized something. That not all gifts are simple. That some battles are fought out of love” ~ The Wonder Years, S3:E12.