I had gotten back from Sioux Falls with M., made pie crusts for the pumpkin and apple pies and had them chilling in the fridge, then made dinner for me, M, and H. when the phone rang.
It was my dad calling to tell me that his father, my last surviving grandparent, died in his sleep this afternoon. He had congestive heart failure from pneumonia, and had been in a hospice room in Troy, New York, for a couple of days. I hadn’t seen him for almost four years, after having tried to bring M. to see him last winter and been turned back by the weather.
My grandpa always seemed like a force of nature to me, even when his shock of red hair went white. It never did seem to want to lie down–half the time I remember it sticking almost straight up like a fringe of flame around his head.
His boisterous voice and bouncing knee startled me a little when I was young and shy, but his stories and songs always made me laugh. He made up all kinds of raucous lyrics that would trail off just as he got to the good parts–the parts where my grandma’s stern look would cut him off, and he’d stand there grinning a rascal’s grin.
He was married and had kids by his first wife before meeting my grandmother–but no one in the family ever knew about them (even my dad and his three brothers) until after my grandma died. She wouldn’t allow him to see them, and after her death he tried to reconnect with them, and to introduce his later children to their step-siblings.
I didn’t know until a couple years ago that he’d started out a dairy farmer, and then went on to become a mechanic–I always remember him working on some old car or truck or tractor. He’d always drive Cadillacs that he fixed up, and one of the memories I have of my childhood time with my grandparents was riding in those plush big cars to some supper club. Most of the time they ate at home though, and the feasts we ate at their house remain some of the biggest meals I’ve ever seen in my life.
The last visit I had with my grandpa was at the old house where he and my grandma had lived for decades. After that, he moved into an apartment. M was two years old, and I’d brought him to my parents’ for Christmas, and then my dad took M., my husband, and I down to Troy to see him.
I have a picture my ex-husband took of us there in the house I’ll always remember him in: me and M., my grandpa, my dad, and my Uncle Gary, all posing together, with a portrait of my grandpa’s mother also in the shot, unplanned but clearly visible in the background.