He died on a beautiful Saturday morning in August. He’d say it was good golfing weather. The cancer started in his lungs, and quickly moved its way through his body. After giving his family a chance to say goodbye one last time, he went off into the Great Whatever. We spent the weekend packing up the house; sifting through memories, throwing out old junk, swapping stories and trying not to be too sad. He was in his 80’s, and I think he would have considered himself lucky to be around that long. He’s at peace now. There won’t be a funeral—he wasn’t religious—but they will be throwing a party to celebrate the life of my father’s father.
To him, The Good Life was a round of golf or a hunting trip—the rest was just waiting. In an increasingly synthetic world, it is refreshing to think of how much joy he got out of the outdoors. Through him and my father, I learned to find beauty in nature; even on a cold October morning, I could sit in the grass or in a camouflaged boat and wait for the sun to rise. I still take walks through the woods and am reminded of hunting in northern Minnesota. I can still smell the fire burning in the cabin’s fireplace mingling with cigar smoke and whatever was cooking, and I can still hear the sounds of laughter, cards shuffling, dirty jokes, and poker chips clanking after a long day of walking and waiting. These remain some of the fondest memories of my childhood.
A lot of moments and memories go with him, but the good ones will live on through the magic of storytelling. There’s the one about the time he dressed up as Santa for the younger grandkids at a family gathering. His air travel woes as a traveling salesman in the 60s and 70s, like the one where they had to foam the runway because the plane’s wheels didn’t work. Stories of living in St Paul, of raising seven kids, of golf games and duck hunting and trips to the lake. He’s gone, but people live on forever in memories and stories. All we can do is keep telling his stories.
It’s easy to focus on the bad things—the cancer, the last few days, the grief—but I choose to remember it differently. I’ll remember seeing him with a huge smile and has dark-tinted glasses, shaking my hand and saying “Tommy, how are ya?” I’ll remember being a boy with a BB gun, walking to our hunting destination, scared as hell of the dark or a noise in the woods or the cold, and grabbing onto his leg for dear life.
Sometimes, all you need is a reassuring pat on the head to feel like everything is alright. That was a long time ago, but I haven’t forgotten that simple lesson.
Rest in Peace, Grandpa.
The first time I laid eyes upon what would be my college campus was Labor Day 2005. I was on a tour to see which colleges I liked so I could start applying. Before the tour, my dad, brother and I wandered around State Street and eventually ended up on Langdon Street (Langdon is “Frat Row”). You could just feel the hangovers of the people celebrating the end of summer and the start of a new year.
Empty beer cans were all over, furniture was out on the sidewalk waiting to be picked up; the area looked a little decrepit.
And I smiled.
Right there and then, I fell in love with the Babylon of the Midwest: Madison, Wisconsin.
It’s been five years since my first introduction to the city. I graduated and it’s time to move on, and that means leaving my home of four years behind. It’s time to pour a 40 of Keystone Light (naturally) on the curb for my brief but memorable stint as a Badger.