Last night my mother called me. First, we talked about my brother's hectic life but, towards the end, she told me my grandpa was moping around, saying he wasn't happy with life and that he was ready to "give up." I said, "That seems to have been his attitude for the past several years. He's probably just bored." He often made the poor joke that everyone should be shot at the age of 70. She called me this morning and told me he did not wake up today. He died in his sleep.
I hoped my mother wouldn't be so disappointed that I didn't break down into tears. It's just not the way I react to things. I'll miss him. I wish he would have held on for summer, because I plan on moving back to California. Then my kids could have visited him some more. But it was clear he wasn't happy for the last stretch. I didn't know him as well as probably most kids know their grandparents but he was the only grandpa I knew. I hope he's happy now in heaven or nirvana or whatever it takes.
The most disturbing aspect of the whole thing is: At what point in life do the proverbial good times get to roll. Is it all "blink of an eye" flashes that don't seem real in the first place? Like kissing someone for the first time and then finding out they want to kiss you again? Being old and retired does not appear to be any sanctuary. Even my wife's grandmother of 92 years, she seems happy but her son (and caretaker; a very nice guy) loses patience with her quickly and rolls his eyes at her slow walking and her pausing to enjoy the company of a grandchild. Her husband was a chemist who later retired and started a farm of exotic birds. He died in his seventies when he crashed his van, hauling birds to a show. What a surreal accident that must have been. How does one make a graceful exit?
I can quickly tell you everything I know about my grandpa: He and his twin brother served on an aircraft carrier during World War II. They both spent their lives logging old-growth forests (a family trade). He liked attending VFW pancake breakfasts. He liked peanuts on vanilla ice cream. His favorite expressions were "Oh, hah" and "I s'pose." He smiled a lot, at least around his family. Toward his final years, after a long court case, he was finally officially declared an "Indian," though his twin brother and children were not. When I introduced my fiance, he wore his favorite outfit: a pair of jeans. Those war tattoos and scars from heart surgery were part of who he was. You should know that if you're joining the family.
My brother was living with some drug-dealing, chainsaw-bear carving, folksinging "Whos" down in Whoville. The business was busted and they moved up the coast. My brother broke his neck trying to catch his girlfriend as she fell over the side of the deck on the house my grandpa built with the help of his father-in-law. It was the house my mother and her brothers and sister grew up in. Coincidentally, my brother's girlfriend had shown up there with the intention of breaking up with him. For a long time I had played with the idea of calling my grandpa and immortalizing his life journey in a small book for our family. But when my grandpa was bedridden and my brother was bedridden there beside him, my brother asked him "So how did you and grandma meet?" my grandpa just said, "I don't know. That was a long time ago." I didn't expect I would have any better luck.
My brother and his girlfriend stayed together for awhile after that, but she didn't seem to want to be associated with him. She would hit on other guys in front of him. She made strange new friends and started getting into harder drugs. My brother was in one of those tall, hard neck braces and had limited mobility. When his girlfriend accused him of abusing her and tried to convince her druggie friends to beat his crippled ass, I dropped everything, got in trouble at work and drove 13 hours to get him. I stayed at the house my grandpa built with grandpa and his youngest child. When I woke up in the morning, I went into the living room where grandpa sat in a recliner watching "Freddy Versus Jason." The lady who cared for him in the mornings showed up and asked, "Didn't you just watch this last night?" There was a legendary "playhouse" that my uncle Frank had built for uncle Tom when they were kids so they wouldn't have to share a room. It stood for a great many decades and then one year, grandpa decided it would be a productive thing to run the house over with his truck (and leave the pile of broken wood where it lay). There were ramshackle tool racks hanging from trees in the yard that grandpa recently put together. Grandpa had prided himself in life that "he would walk on anything he built."
That morning I talked to him about how I bought a house and re-did the plumbing. Me and grandpa have never been good at chit chat. Me and my brother rented a U-Haul trailer and meant to gather all of his belongings (which were essentially everything in the house) from their rented house on the beach in Crescent City and steal away into the night. Grandpa walked all the way down the gravel driveway and checked out our method of connecting the trailer to the truck. He stood there quietly. His puppy dog eyes attested his desire to be part of the project. But he had sent me $300 by mail because he did not feel comfortable traveling to my wedding. He turned down my cousin John's request to take a car ride with him just so they could have a quality talk. We had to awkwardly climb into the truck, say goodbye and drive away with him standing there silently in the road, watching us. That is my final memory of the man.
The youngest people come and the oldest people go and only those closest to them seem to notice. Everyone else just swarms around.