We were packing to go to a wedding when my wife’s cell phone rang. We didn’t answer. We were in a hurry. When the house phone rang a few minutes later, we didn’t answer again. The caller ID was a number we didn’t recognize and we were planning to get on the road as quickly as possible. When my mom’s voice popped up on the answering machine, I knew Grandpa had died.
Mom left a simple message. “Call me when you can,” she said. Since I had talked to Mom just a few hours before and she said Grandpa wasn’t doing very well, I knew that “Call me when you can,” meant Grandpa hadn’t survived.
A few days ago, as we prepared to celebrate L’il Otis’ second birthday, Dad got a call that his dad had fallen and broken his hip. It’s the kind of thing that happens to old folks all the time. My grandpa was an old Navy man who, true or not, was supposed to have been at Iwo Jima. I never figured out if there was any truth to that story. I sort of figured there would be time to figure it out.
Grandpa hadn’t been himself since his wife died 18 months ago. He was lonely, sad, and skirting toward dementia. Still, he had a smile for the right occasion.
This past Christmas, I was able to get my son back to my hometown to meet his great grandfather for the first time. As it turned out, it would be the last time, as well.
After surgery to repair his hip, Grandpa developed an infection. Doctors couldn’t seem to get his blood/oxygen level to an acceptable level. From there, it turned into one of those unfortunate scenes where the doctors write off the patient and let the family sit in waiting for the inevitable.
The call came in about an hour ago. I called Mom back immediately and she confirmed what I already knew. Even now, I’m not really sure I know what to think. I’m not quite right in the head and my decision-making skills are not exactly where they need to be at the moment.
From the moment mom called, though, I was intent on finding a picture I set up during the holiday festivities. I spent about half an hour searching through two computers before I found the digital camera card on a shelf in the office.
For now, I’ll be thinking about four generations of our family. It’s an old Navy man turned preacher who raised a son. That son pulled himself out of poverty, built a business and raised a son of his own. That son watched his grandfather age, his father work his ass off and survive a certain-death experience. That son is still trying to figure everything out while raising his own son. And that son is eating shrimp fried rice, oblivious to it all, and simply happy that his grandpa and grandma gave him a trash truck for his birthday.
It’s not poetic, but it’s our family as we say goodbye to a dustbowl patriarch with a smile that outlived him.