My grandfather died on the first day of this year. It was not unexpected, and yet it was. He had cancer, and we had been warned that it was a matter of months, not years. My brothers and I made trips home before Christmas to spend time with him and say goodbye. I knew I would not see him again.
And yet, it caught me off guard. He was such a steady, solid part of my world, that to discover he was not there anymore felt baffling. Still feels baffling. Like a floor has suddenly been removed from a long-familiar house. Like the Earth’s bedrock is gone.
I do not feel so sad. He lived long, and he lived well, and those of us he left behind are filled with warm memories that keep him with us. But I feel slightly lost, and more than a little nostalgic.
His funeral is today, and I cannot be there. So instead, I am writing this to remember him well. These are some of the memories I have of him.
I remember his house in Regina. We would go there often, driving up from Saskatoon for Christmas, or just to spend a weekend. My brothers and I slept in the basement with its thick, orange, shag carpet, and the huge pillows that we pounded into submission. I remember the sound of train whistles at night, as I was falling asleep, and smelling the earthy, bookish smell of the house.
I remember hearing the popping sound of coffee percolating, just up the stairs, and knowing Grandpa was awake. He was always the first one up in the morning, making the coffee and starting breakfast. I never remember seeing him in his pyjamas—by the time I woke he was always dressed in slacks and button-down shirt, as if he had never slept at all.
I remember him leaning down to me and my brothers, a mischievous twinkle in his eye, and saying, “Why don’t you go wake up your Grannie?” She liked to sleep late, and always groaned when the three of us clambered into her bed, all noise and bouncing.
I remember camping in his trailer, with its bed up in a loft that sat above the truck’s bed, its roof too low to sit up properly. I remember losing track of my parents on one of these trips, and finding my Grandpa. No matter how hard I tried he would not simply tell me where they were. (“Maybe they fell in the lake? Maybe they forgot you and drove home? Maybe some birds flew away with them?”) I was scared, and furious, and I cried as he walked me straight to where my parents were waiting.
I remember when my parents were away and he came to stay with us. I had been assigned the task of cleaning up any messes our dogs made. When my parents came home and discovered my Grandpa had done this job for me, hadn’t even known it was my responsibility, I said, “Well I was going to do it, but Grandpa just barged in!” My grandfather told this story again and again, with a grin every time.
I remember the way he smelled. Like burnt coffee, and leather and oak and stone.
He was a good man, and that is not a title I give lightly. He devoted his life to his family. When his first wife died, he raised his three children on his own. When his second wife fell ill and stopped taking care of herself, he cared for her until he couldn’t any more (and a good ways beyond, I would say). He was steadfast, and caring, and loving in a way that was implacable. He did good work on the earth, and now he has earned his rest.
He taught me so much, the greatest of which was how to be part of a family, and to have that be the centre of your life.
Goodbye, Grandpa. And thank you. I hope you are surrounded by those you loved so well now.