These are the hands of my grandparents. These are the only grandparents I’ve known my entire life. I’ve been blessed with three sets of grandparents (one in the USSR and another that joined my life later, but no less part of my being), but these, these are the ones that were there the day I was born. These are the ones that were there every time the police came when my parents fought. These are the ones I would run into the arms of when I needed to feel loved when the world was scarier than I could handle.
I lost one of them on Tuesday.
My father’s parents had been married for 67.5 years. It would have been 68 in June. They met and married young, my grandmother a college student, and my grandfather a sailor. A very handsome sailor. I can prove it… (look over to the right). He served as an officer on the USS Gainard DD-706 in World War II. He survived immeasurable odds (27 kamikaze attacks) to return home and start his family. He had three children, two daughters and a son (my dad!), with my grandmother. He was an architect, a board member of a school district, and many more things that I’m sure I don’t know (but wish I did). But most importantly, for me, he was my grandfather. He taught me woodworking. He taught me about birds. He should have taken me fishing, damnit. He taught me one of my biggest flaws (and virtues) – a love of learning.
My mother and father had a very rocky relationship (to put it nicely). He and my grandmother lived a short distance away in those early years. I remember them coming to the rescue, pulling my sister and I out of the intense chaos that ruled in those days to a bit more peace and quiet while things settled down.
They helped my parents with my sister and I. I remember many afternoons in their apartment (was it?) when I was very young. These fading memories blur in my recollection, but the love won’t be forgotten.
They lived in the woods, 2 hours north of us on the slope of Mt. Pinos in Southern California. They got snow at their house. It was a winter wonderland we would visit to go sledding and throw snowballs at our cousins on an annual basis. Their log cabin was filled with books, history, a giant sailfish, and the smell of the best bread you could ever imagine. Oh yeah, my grandfather also taught me a love of cooking (I don’t think I would appreciate food the same way if it weren’t for him). He loved his bird feeders, and hated the squirrels that robbed them (he had a bebe gun handy to scare them off – I don’t think us kids, or at least us girls, were supposed to know that).
My memories are endless, and my memories are all that I have of him now. That and my photos.
I had the honor of visiting him before he left us. I drove out from a business trip in Las Vegas to see him, and to be fair, to see my grandmother and remind her just how much she is loved. We sat together, she told me stories about that handsome young sailor that was intent on taming the “Evil Oman” (a play on her name, Esther Oman). She showed me, and gave me, many relics of their younger years, and of my great grandparents. And I sat with her as we both held his hand.
In laughter do us part
Even in his final days, he was telling jokes. Barely able to speak, as we cried over him, he didn’t take kindly to my grandmother declaring that she chose him. He reached his hand up with a wry, though weak, smile, and pointed at her, to say that he, in fact, chose her. The sheer joy and sorrow in that moment exploded in contradiction. We couldn’t absorb the cognitive dissonance so we all laughed. Including my grandfather.
What is so remarkable was his radical acceptance of his fate. He was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer mere weeks ago. And his response was simply, “Well, I’ve had a good life, and a good run. Now I guess it’s time for me to go.” [paraphrased, as I wasn’t there]. The nurses caring for him were baffled and in awe. The peace he had with accepting his fate was unprecedented. I can only dream that I am as peacefully accepting as he was when my time comes.
And that’s just it. My time will come. As will all of ours. One of our final graces is the strength with which we take into those final hours. And the beauty. He spoke to every one of his grandchildren before passing. He smiled at the voices of those who weren’t able to visit. He greeted me knowingly, even in his weakened dreamstate. I was able to say goodbye and know he was saying goodbye back to me.
I’ll miss you, Grampie.
Wallis E. Pereira b. September 9, 1926 d. March 10, 2015, 88.5 years old.
This is our last goodbye.
In the madness that is our lives, we should never forget the things and people who are truly important to us, and enjoy them as deeply and fully as we can. They won’t be around forever. Sometimes we remember this too late. I did.