Monday, June 15, 2020

On the Importance of Grandpas, and how to be the BEST

I love my grandmas, just so you know. Amazing, awesome women that I adore, and I could write and write about. But this morning I feel a welling up in my soul to write about the other 50% of my genetic inheritance, the grandpas.

I was richly blessed to have grandfathers that I knew personally and loved deeply. And Grandpa and Opa love me back. I can say "love" in the present tense for both of them even though they died in 1991 and 2000, because is strong as death,
jealousy is fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
the very flame of the Lord.
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.
If a man offered for love
all the wealth of his house,
he would be utterly despised.

Even though this passage from the Bible, Song of Solomon 8, is referring to love between a man and a woman, it captures all the eternal qualities of love that go deeper and deeper, right down into the very heart of God. Love that remains, long after death has decayed the mortal body. Love that lasts forever and ever.
I am safe, secure, loved, and cherished by my God. And that I know this deeply, through and through, has so much to do with my parents and grandparents, and in this essay specifically, my grandfathers.

I was  loved and cherished by them from the moment I was born.

Opa looking into my newborn face with delight.

Grandpa holding my newborn self, Grandma
 looking over his shoulder smiling.
Even though my family moved to the east coast and left them in California when I was three, that did not hinder my closeness to my grandparents. They came and visited us, we visited them, and there were endless letters and phone calls. We did just fine without the age of the internet. Maybe better- because I still have, filed away in a box, precious letters, handwritten or typed. Opa's writing was very neat and clear printing. Grandpa's was squiggly and nearly impossible to read so he usually typed, with frequent handwritten inserts and notes that he added after he was done with the typing. These letters have a character all their own that don't come through via email.

Some grandpas are remote and distant and don't interact with their grandkids much. Not mine. They loved their grandkids and interacted and played and discovered with us and entertained and snuggled and carried us.
My sister and I helping Opa pick tomatoes

My grandpa and I on the beach, looking at a treasure the waves have left.
I often think about the traits I have that were inherited from their personalities and developed by them. Both of them loved nature and hiking. Opa had a very sharp eye for noticing things. I used to love to show him off to my friends on hikes when he came for visits. He could always see the little frog or lizard or bird in plain sight that we missed, and he knew how to engage us so that it was the most fascinating thing in the world. I remember a friend saying "Wow, I just love your Opa, he is so fun!" He made us want to look carefully so we could spot things and proudly point them out to him. Oma and Opa lived on the California coast, so he regularly took beach walks and collected all kinds of beautiful shells and rocks, and fossils from up in the mountains, that he saved to show the grandchildren when we came to visit. I find myself thinking about him constantly when I am out in the woods, walking up a stream looking for rocks and fossils and arrowheads. He also looked for dropped coins out on his walks and saved them in a cloth bag for us to split when we visited. I believe on one of these visits the bag contained over $40 in pennies, dimes, nickels and quarters. We'd lay them out and sort them by dates and kinds. And from Opa I believe I get my deep spiritual connection to God as He is revealed in nature. One of the first hymns I knew and loved was "How Great Thou Art," which was one of Opa's favorite hymns.

O Lord my God,
When I in awesome wonder
Consider all
The works Thy Hand hath made,
I see the stars,
I hear the mighty thunder,
Thy pow'r throughout
The universe displayed,
When through the woods
And forest glades I wander
I hear the birds
Sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down
From lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook
And feel the gentle breeze,
Then sings my soul,
My Savior God, to Thee,
How great Thou art!

It was my Oma and Opa that wanted to have my sister and I baptized in their Lutheran church when my young parents were not church-goers. This was important to them, and now, years later, I understand that that was their way of dedicating their beloved granddaughters to the Lord. I see my Opa as one of the very important and first founders of my faith in Jesus. He wanted to give to us the most important thing he had, the knowledge of God's unconditional, vast and unfathomable love and care for us. Even today, when God speaks to me in dreams, he very often uses my Opa to communicate spiritual truths. Losing my Opa at age twelve was the most heart-breaking thing ever to happen to me. But even in the last days, in the hospital, hovering on the edge of consciousness, his love for me was steady and sure. I would hold his hand and whisper "I love you, Opa," and he would squeeze my hand back tightly. We held hands around his bed and sang How Great Thou Art. And he reached toward the light, and angels we could not see. None of this was lost on my twelve-year-old self, and it wedged itself deep into my heart.

Richard taking pictures of flowers
Years and years later, visiting Nepali friends in Chitwan province, a white-haired grandpa named Richard from Arizona arrived. Right off I noticed how he looked like my Opa. He connected with the kids there as instantly as my Opa would have, no shared language needed. He was so kind, and his faith was also deep and strong and somehow so similarly expressed as my Opa's. One morning I saw him out taking pictures of flowers in our hostess's garden (my Opa was a photographer) and I lost it. I told Richard why I was crying my eyes out and he hugged me and let me cry. From then on, he became my "adopted Opa," and somehow, a big hole in my heart that I hadn't realized was there, closed up and healed. Thank you, Richard. 

My dad's dad, Grandpa, was completely different than Opa. A totally different type of personality. And I have so much of it! I am pretty sure my particular brand of humor passed directly from him to my dad and then to me. It's the silly streak and the propensity of a bit vaudeville to suddenly emerge. All of my sisters have it too. The singing and the dancing of a totally ridiculous nature. I don't know if my sisters do, but I often talk to myself in just the same way Grandpa did. Addressing a bowl of apples with the same tone of voice, for example. Grandpa was an actor and radio man and writer by career, and though I haven't made a career out of those things (well, I do occasionally get paid to write), I see them in myself too. I tend to be an introvert, but when called upon to stand up and speak in front of hundreds of people, this comical and confident self springs up out of somewhere and off I go, ready to entertain. The old showbiz streak. I've got the same hunger for information and am also a voracious reader. Grandpa was the head librarian for the San Francisco Examiner and had a vast realm of information about all sorts of things going on in his head. I could easily have been a librarian.

Me and Grandpa on the kitchen floor, playing with jars
and bottles.

Grandpa was full of fun and play and knew just how to engage and entertain children until they were laughing their heads off and rolling on the ground. I learned much later that he was the immensely popular "Uncle Harry" on the radio in the thirties and forties, reading the Sunday comics aloud (in twenty different voices) for children across the western states. Uncle Harry also started radio kids clubs and kids amateur radio hours... well, I didn't know any of that as a little kid, I only knew that Grandpa was so, so much fun. He even made weeding fun! I remember arriving at his San Mateo home after a long plane flight at probably age six or seven, and begging to go out and pull weeds with him. The weed was a kind of invasive grass that had long, long runners. I would try to carefully pull them up without breaking the runners to see how long it would be. "Great Smoke!" he'd say. "That one's a MONSTER!" He was so impressed that I had to find one that was even longer to impress him some more. Then we'd be off to the playground around the corner. I always felt like he had an endless amount of time for me and that I was deeply, deeply loved. Telling your grandchildren you love them is one thing, but immediately dropping everything to play with them as soon as they arrive is another. This kind of engaged, quality time told me I was valuable, worthwhile, important, and fun to be with, and both my grandpas were experts at it in their own ways. 

I was so fortunate that Grandpa lived until I was in college, so I had a long, rich relationship with him. In his final years he developed dementia which sometimes made him unreasonable, obstinate, cranky, and occasionally try to hit someone with his cane. But not most of the time. Most of the time he could still tell his fantastic stories from long ago (sometimes adding in rather adult details that he wouldn't have done before dementia that were quite educational to my young ears) flirt with the pretty waitresses, and show his deep love for his family. I had the privilege of spending several weeks one summer as his caregiver after my freshman year of college. He so appreciated everything I did for him. I'd slice up a plate of peaches and leave them on the kitchen counter and he'd wander in, spy them on the plate, throw his arms in the air and exclaim with delight "Holy Smokes! Just look at THESE fine fellows!" It was this kind of thing that made me want to make him happy and do all sorts of special things for him. Getting a "Holy Smokes!" out of him was the best. Even driving with him through the winding Santa Cruz mountains to visit my uncle was highly entertaining. He'd narrate the drive... "We're going up! Up! Arouuuuuund the curve! And down, down, dooooown into the deep, dark, ravine!" (his voice getting lower and lower till it was deep and booming) (I know that everyone reading this who knew him can hear him saying it right now). 

The quality time, the fun, the teaching, the engaging, the letters, the frequent phone calls... these are things that put you down in the books as a top-notch grandpa, if you're here looking for pointers. I know both my grandpas had many flaws and at times were not the most stellar fathers. But perhaps they learned from their mistakes and their parenting regrets, because they were the very most stellar grandfathers. The best grandpas ever. 

Opa and my sister as a baby.

Grandpa dancing down the street with my sister.

Grandpa and the women of the family, holding me as a baby,
happily grabbing his chin.

Oma and Opa taking their granddaughters out for ice cream sundaes.

Opa hugging my sister and I.

No comments:

Post a Comment