Saturday, September 18, 2004

Milkshake Ears
My first clear memory of my granddaddy is from McDonald's. I was about 5, and he was taking me up to Virginia to see my grandma, who was up there taking care of her father. We had stopped at McDonald's for lunch, and he got me a milkshake. This was back in the days when milkshakes were milkshakes, and thus still made very thick, and so I sat there, sucking very hard on my straw, trying valiantly to get at that chocolate goodness.

"Don't suck too hard," said Granddaddy.

"Why not?" I asked.

"Because," he said, in all seriousness, "if you suck too hard, you'll suck your ears inside your head."

"Really?" I said, incredulous. "How do you know?" (I was a suspicious child.)

"I did it before."

Ah-hah! Now I had him. Granddaddy very clearly had ears. "How did you get them back out?" I asked.

"I held my nose and blew real hard." He proceeded to demonstrate, and that was it. I was convinced. If he had done it before, and knew the proper procedure to get his ears back out again, it must be true. I very slowly drank the rest of my milkshake, with big pauses to let it melt enough to suck more easily through the straw.


My granddaddy died shortly before 11:00, Wednesday night. We buried him today. I didn't make it home in time for the visitation last night, thanks to Hurricane Ivan, but I here are the memories of Granddaddy that I would have liked to share.

Granddaddy was a very patient man. He was red-green colorblind, and yet he would let me sit in front of him for hours, conducting "eye tests" with paint color strips so I could laugh and laugh whenever he couldn't tell purple from blue. Since purple was my favorite color, not being able to see it was a fascinating concept to me.

Granddaddy was an architect. By profession, he designed agricultural buildings, but in reality, he designed and built the houses for all four of his children, the house those children grew up in, and the house he and my grandmother decided to build after their family kept extending into grandchildren and they wanted more space, not to mention houses for friends and the extension of the sanctuary of my grandparents' church. I loved the house he designed for my mother and father. My mother was pregnant with me when she was helping build it. Years later, when my cousin and I were old enough to appreciate such things, he built both of us scale model doll houses of the houses he built for our parents. I always wanted him to design a house for me.

Granddaddy never understood what it meant to be retired, a trait it seems all of my grandparents share. When we went to the beach, he always had to be fixing something or making improvements. I think the shower at the beach cottage has possibly the most over-designed shower curtain ever, all in the name of keeping water inside the shower and not on the floor. (The secret: weights and possibly magnets sewn into a bottom seam.) He also spent the entire month between Thanksgiving and Christmas, not getting ready for the relaxing holidays, but organizing and running the Christmas tree sale at the church, often spending the night on the lot to discourage theft. When I was in 6th grade and faking sick a lot, I always tried to arrange it so my grandma would be the one to pick me up at school during that month, so I could spend the afternoon at the Christmas tree lot in the camper trailer with Granddaddy.

Granddaddy gardened. He gave me grapes right off the vine, with thick skins, sweet insides, and big seeds.

He cut wood for the woodstove in the living room that heated the whole main floor of the house during the Christmas holidays. He would tease the grandsons if they couldn't carry as much wood in one load as he could.

He showed his love for Grandma by building her things. He built her a huge hillside of flowerbeds at the "new" house, with a waterfall at the curve, flowing down to a fishpond. He bought her a new glass storm door for Christmas, even though he thought it wasn't a very good present, because it was what she wanted. He also got her a very annoying motion-sensor singing and dancing Santa Claus, because he knew it would make her happy.

I cannot even begin to say all the things I loved about my granddaddy, or begin to enumerate all the things he did for his family and for others that made him so loved. These past several years of watching his Parkinson's get progressively worse has been very hard, but without a doubt it was far harder for him, always active and always working with his hands, than it was for the rest of us. I know it must have been a relief to him to finally feel at peace again, but he will be so missed. He will be missed.

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