This week my grandfather passed away. I have a lot of things running through my mind, emotions, memories and unresolved feelings. Losing someone you love is never a simple matter. Instead of writing all about that though, I decided to post the Eulogy I wrote for him. Several people spoke at his funeral or privately shared their memories of my grandfather and the impact he had on their lives. They all had beautiful things to say.
I wrote this to share my memories of him. I think you can judge a man by a lot of things, but you can judge him truly by the relationships he has with the ones he loves the most. He lived a full 86 years and I am proud to have known the man he was and honored to have been able to call him Grandpa.
February 23, 2012
For as long as I can remember, anytime someone asked me who my hero was or who I looked up to the most, my answer without hesitation was my Grandpa. I don’t even know why but it was my default answer and I never thought to question my instinctual response to this question. It was just a fact.
When I think back to all of the things I loved about my Grandpa only snippets of moments with him come to mind, not adjectives like great cook, famous restaurant owner, etc.
My memories have this 1960’s feel to them, of a wistful and simpler time. I remember summer afternoons and my Grandpa in his blue swirly swim trunks and his huge birthmark on his leg that never ceased to entrance me. He would get in with me after I practiced diving and swimming strokes. I would lay on my back, face up and he would hold my shoulders and swirl me around in circles. I’d just stare at the clouds, his smiling face and enjoy the muted sounds you hear when your ears are submerged in water.
I remember walking hand in hand to the park on afternoons, stopping at the ice cream truck and getting a ninja turtle ice cream bar. I’d pick out the gum eyes and Grandpa would hold on to them until we got home.
I remember trips to the library. I think my dad likes to say I’m a great reader because he and my mom read to me every night since I was a baby. But I think I just wanted to be like my Grandpa, who would walk into the library and pull off 10-15 books from the shelves within 5 minutes, reading the back cover for a few seconds before deciding if it was worth a read. I would wander into the children’s section and pull out books on dolphins and Martin Luther King Jr, my two obsessions for years, and get excited to flip through the pages just like Grandpa did.
I remember driving home from school every week, listening to KNX 1070 from the backseat of the Cadillac and promises of apples and peanut butter for a snack when we got home.
I remember spending hours playing blackjack and gin rummy. I never cheated. We kept score on a pad of white paper that I swear was in their kitchen drawer for decades.
I remember the gumball machine in the kitchen. I would earn a quarter to get a piece of gum if I found 25 black watermelon seeds. Not white ones, only black.
I remember his undying love for Miss Piggy. He said her snort made a man go wild and no offense Ro, but if Miss Piggy showed up at the door he’d leave her in an instant and they’d runaway together. He seemed completely serious when he said she was a fine piece of swine.
I remember following him around at every grocery store in the valley. He picked up a minimum of 5 watermelons and taught me how to tap them to see if they were good before choosing the right one. I remember that he knew the price of every single item in every single market and only bought the item if he couldn’t get it better or cheaper somewhere else. If you ever called the house and asked to speak with him and he wasn’t home, you knew what my Grandma would say when you asked, “Where is he”? Where do you think, she’d say. I think I can count on one hand only the amount of times the answer wasn’t “the grocery store”.
I remember my nightly ritual when I slept over. I would take a shower, grab one of my Grandpas white undershirts and a pair of my Grandmas flannel pajama pants. I would get in bed and my Grandpa would come in and read me the same book he always did, Ducktales. I am embarrassed to admit we continued this tradition into my high school years. He changed the names of Louie, Duey and Huey, Scrooge McDuck’s nephews, to Ryan, Todd and Alissa and after years and years I’m not even sure we needed the book anymore to tell the story. But he sat there on the edge of the bed and turned the pages anyway.
And I remember the moment I grew up and these idyllic times were over. My Grandpa used to have ticklish fingernails. I say used to because one day I tried tickling them and it didn’t work. To this day I choose to believe he grew out of it, not that it was a game he played with me since I was young and believed in magical ticklish fingernails. While I lost that innocence I once had, I got to know a new Duke. One that cussed and made inappropriate jokes. I once told him about a guy that I liked that never called me back. He called him a son of a bitch. Later on in an email to him I told him “That son of a bitch still hasn’t called”. He responded:
I did not call the son of a bitch, a son of a bitch. I called him a sombitch, a term that any self-respecting red neck would understand & appreciate. I feel terrible if any one of the sombich persuasion took offence. I feel so bad, that I’m going to lay out on the back porch, with my 6 pack of swill & sulk & if any son of a bitch, oops I mean sumbitch bothers me I’ll just take a dump in the communal well. Don’t drink the water.
Luv from grandmama & granpa
If I could spend one more day with my Grandpa, I wouldn’t spend it talking to him about his feelings and thoughts on life. I wouldn’t ask him for advice and reassurance on becoming a mom. I wouldn’t ask him to tell me about the war and his experiences. I wouldn’t even spend it learning how to cook everything he ever made.
Instead I would spend it like this. I would wake up in their house in Woodland Hills. I would stress out over whether to order French toast or salami eggs and onions and a bagel while I sip on my homemade strawberry and banana smoothie. I would go swimming, walk to the library, play a few rounds of gin and cuddle up next to him on the couch in the afternoon while we both read our latest library acquisitions. And then I would shower, get in my PJ’s and let him tell me a story. Or two. And just as I hope my grandfather did in his last moment, I would go to sleep happy. Content. Full of love. And full of peace.