Thursday, August 04, 2005
Sunday, July 31, 2005
Paul Jones, 1922-2005
When the call came in from Arkansas, I knew what it was. Of course, I’ve been “knowing” for nearly two months, and, sooner or later, that feeling was going to be right. I wish I could have gone on being wrong a little longer.
My grandpa passed away on Saturday, just a little shy of his eighty-third birthday. My father tells me that it was as painless and peaceful as anyone could hope for--and for that I’m grateful.
Some of the last words he spoke to me, just a few weeks ago, were to tell me how lucky he was to have the best grandson in the world. It made me cry, knowing that it wasn’t true, more thankful than I can tell you that he actually believed it. I wish I had lived up to it, especially in these last months.
From the family farm in Kansas to a chicken farm in Colorado Springs and then to his job as a meter reader, he was never wealthy and he never had the chance to experience many of life’s luxuries. But his life was still filled with his family and his love of Colorado--it’s a pity that the last few years robbed him of his health and his ability to even take trips to the mountains. In fact, these last few years were brutally cruel to him. He handled health problems and difficulties with more grace than most people could manage.
I remember as a boy taking walks with him along some of Colorado’s abandoned railroad lines. He loved trains almost as much as he loved his restored John Deere tractor. The walks were quiet as he wasn’t much of a talker. For him, it was the time together that mattered.
Maybe my happiest memory of him is so simple that it could almost be a snapshot. When I was a boy, I would sometimes stay the night with my grandparents. When the summer nights were cool, we would sit on the front porch with my grandma and me on a squeaky wood swing. My grandpa would sit on the stone wall around the porch while my grandma told stories and hugged me. Grandpa was in heaven at moments like that. Just sitting there with the people he loved, knowing that the world was all right, was enough for him to be happy.
The last time I went back and saw that porch swing, I was amazed at how flimsy it looked. I don’t know if it grew fragile with time or if it was always that frail and I just didn’t notice.
It hurt Saturday, and I was glad to be with my girlfriend away from home. I was glad I didn’t have to deal with familiar surroundings and that there was someone there who cared about how I felt. The people who have the biggest affect on our lives often don’t know the extent of their influence.
Shortly after I was booted out of the Army, I took refuge from the world in my grandparent’s basement. I was young and confused and desperately in need of direction. He didn’t have answers for me, but he did have the generosity of spirit to give me a place to stay while I regrouped and prepared myself for life. He was shelter and safety when I was in need.
During those last few years of his life, he spent his money and his energy to help his wife and kids. It was completely selfless--without hope of any benefit for him and with little thought to his own comfort or health. He just wanted his family to be okay.
He was a good man. He certainly wasn’t wealthy, he wasn’t the worldliest, and he wasn’t perfect. But he was a good man. I will miss his quiet presence, his faith, his sly sense of humor, and his caring.
My world is smaller today.
Thursday, March 10, 2005
Excuse Me While I Cry
Even the sad news that you expect, the news that barely has an effect on your life, can take the breath out of you. So, you’ll excuse me while I cry a bit.
I’ve just got news that my grandmother passed away five days ago. I don’t have any details, and I probably never will. She had separated from my grandfather when he was in the hospital a little over a year ago, and I had only seen her one time since. Her kidneys had failed her and she required regular dialysis.
Her mind had started to fail her years ago. When I did see her, she was paranoid and confused; her thoughts were a jumble of memories and movies that didn’t make sense. She believed that my grandfather wanted to leave her penniless while she and my aunt struggled to get by. Meanwhile, my grandpa paid for my aunt’s rent, her car, extra for health care, and even a helping hand to some of the grandkids when they ran into trouble.
When my parents moved grandpa out to Arkansas, the split between grandma and grandpa was complete. In the letters he’s written me, he wished that he could see her and be with her again. But the distance was too great--both the miles and the months that past without contact.
There was a time when she was a strong, beautiful woman and her mind was clear. She was lively and her laughter would fill a room with the kind of joy that I’ve never been able to bring to others. If she sometimes felt a restlessness in her life, I’m nothing but sympathetic; sometimes standing still is the hardest path to travel.
I haven’t seen her in over a year, and I’ll never see her again. In Arkansas tonight, my grandpa’s heart is breaking. Even a carefully cultivated distance can’t keep me from this tightness in my chest. She’ll be in my memory forever, along with Chick and Uncle Billy and the rest, and she’ll always be that younger, vibrant, hot-tempered woman.
Excuse me while I cry for what I’ve lost, for what my grandpa has to be feeling, and for everything that time’s passing steals from us.
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