My whole family probably has a number of stories about my grandfather that we could share. There’s no one story or anecdote about Grampa begins to do him justice. But I know that all of the small moments that I got to share with him, that all of us got to share with him add up to a up to a great, wonderful man.
I’m probably not the only one who thinks this, but I always felt like I had an extra special bond with my grandfather. That was what was so great about him. All of his grandchildren and all of his children felt like they had a special connection with him. My favorite memories of my grandfather are from my childhood. I was too young to remember it, but my parents loved to tell the story of Grampa setting me down in a mud puddle in my diaper and jumping around yelling “Cheerios!” It didn’t take much from Grampa to put a smile on my face, even back then. And everyone said, and I believe it, that he and I enjoyed our childhood together. It was my first, and his second.
I spent my early years with my grandparents living right next door to me. As our family expanded, they were kind enough to let my parents lived in the house while they moved into the upstairs apartment. As a kid, I used to love to climb the stairs up to the apartment where Grammy and Grampa lived (they had cable, after all). But I got to spend time with them whenever I wanted. I can remember sitting at the dining table on Sunday afternoons watching him count up the church offering and sometimes getting to help roll up the coins, or at least trying to. I can remember how happy and excited I would be whenever he would come home with fried clams and share the leftovers with me. Small things like that still stick in my mind.
We got to play a lot of games with him, usually Uno indoors and croquet outside during the summer months. He would take us bowling. He took us up to the summit of Mt. Washington. Uno was always a blast to play with Grampa, as anyone could tell you. As a kid, I used to love sitting next to Grampa because he would let me see his cards ALL THE TIME. He made me feel like his teammate, his cohort, his partner in crime.
Some of my fondest memories as a kid were spent in the backyard with my grandfather in the summer. Croquet was played at every summer family gathering at the Haskell residence. And my grandfather was good. And I wanted to play too. And be like my grandfather. As a kid, I can remember having dinner out back and then me and Grampa playing croquet by ourselves until dark, just the two of us. And in my memory at least, it seemed like every summer night. Just he and I going around the course, him teaching me and me enjoying every minute of it. Looking back, I’m sure there could have been more productive ways for him to spend his evenings, but I don’t think he would say that.
One of the most “traumatic” moments of my childhood was when my parents moved us from Kezar Falls to Cornish. The hardest part wasn’t just moving away and not having my best friend living just a few blocks away, or knowing that I was going to be going to a different school, but that my grandparents weren’t right there. There was that immediacy that I was used to. It took a long time, but I finally forgave them a few weeks ago. I think.
As I grew up, my relationship with Grampa deepened. I appreciated his strong Christ-like example of love and joy that he displayed to so many people in so many different ways. He’d dress up like a clown to entertain kids at church. He taught Sunday School. Grampa was probably the most gentle-hearted person I have ever known. I think I could count on one hand the number of time I heard him raise his voice at me or anyone. And when he, did, that was a clear sign to me that I was definitely out of line and in the wrong, because Grampa just doesn’t get mad. Making Grampa upset would make you feel like the worst kid in the world. But if you made him laugh, you felt like a million bucks.
We laughed a lot; especially around the table playing Uno. It wasn’t a game of Uno until Grampa was laughing so hard he was crying. Any game of Uno around the table with Grampa you were guaranteed at least one period of sustained, hysterical laughter at the table. Usually he was the one making everyone laugh, either by something he said or did or by his reaction to what someone said or did.
I always got to spend all of the major holidays with my Grandparents; Christmas, New Year’s, Easter, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving. I cherish all of those. Honestly, I wish I had a better memory so I could recount all of the many fun times I had with Grampa. Sometimes it just feels like a big blur of smiles, and laughs, and love. And that’s maybe the best thing I can say about him, that there were too many good moments to choose from to pick out the best moments. The most important takeaway for me about the time I got to spend with my grandfather isn’t the games or the activities that we did. It’s not about how we spent our time together. It’s about the love he conveyed through that time.
There’s a very good movie called The Shawshank Redemption, based on a book written by Stephen King. The movie is about two imprisoned men, Andy, played by Tm Robbins and Red, played by Morgan Freeman, and the bond of friendship they form over their years in this prison. Since the movie has been out for nearly two decades, I’m not going to feel bad about spoiling it for you by saying that toward the end of the movie, Andy eventually escapes and makes his way down to Mexico. Red, our narrator, and still in prison, laments the loss of his friend by saying this:
“Sometimes it makes me sad, though… Andy being gone. I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up DOES rejoice. But still, the place you live in is that much more drab and empty that they’re gone. I guess I just miss my friend.”
My grandfather battled Parkinson’s the last 12 years of his life. He slowly became more and more a prisoner in his own body as he came closer and closer to the end. It makes me sad, my grandfather being gone. My grandfather was not meant to be caged in his own body. He was too active and vibrant in life. And now that he’s flown away, the part of me that knows it was a sin for him to be locked up like that DOES rejoice. But still, the place that we live in is that much more drab and empty now that he’s gone. I guess I just miss my friend.
The movie doesn’t end there though. Red later is paroled. And eventually makes his way down to Mexico, breaking his parole. Some of the last lines of the movie say, “I find I’m so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific Ocean is as blue as it is in my dreams. I hope.” I look forward to one day being reunited with my grandfather. And I know the reunion will be as sweet as it is in my dreams.
When Grampa passed away Saturday it was really tough to deal with. As I started going through pictures to put together that slide show we watched a little while ago, a friend of mine thought it would be really hard to do that. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I got to laugh and smile and remember moments and memories that I had forgotten. We had so much fun. We all had so much fun with him.
Arguably the most famous Bible verse is John 3:16, which says “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” A popular thing I’ve heard some people say about that verse is that you can say “For God so loved that he gave” or “For God so loved” and stop right there because that is such a powerful statement. As Christians, we are called to be ambassadors of Christ in the world, to show God through how we live our lives. I know my grandfather did that. Because of all the stories, of all the memories I have of my grandfather, the best testament I can give of him is that he loved. He so loved.