Walter was my grandpa. He was also my hero. We all knew him and loved him despite any faults. The man who never spoke above a mumble and who had a comb-over long before I was born. Some of my earliest and my best memories include Grandpa. I'd like to share some of those memories.
If I had to pick just one favorite memory, it would be catching lightning bugs at dusk. When I was young I would spend a week on the Farm with my grandparents each summer. I remember preparing for our nightly adventure by finding a mason jar and helping Grandpa pound holes into the lid so the bugs could breathe. I remember watching the twinkling lights above the corn field, getting closer by the minute. I would run around the yard capturing lightning bugs and Grandpa would hold the jar for me. Once I had captured about 50 bugs we would take the jar inside and watch them glow. I would put the jar next to my bed and let the twinkling lights dance me to sleep.
Some of the most defining memories I have of my grandfather revolve around watching him take care of my grandmother as they got older. They were married for an amazing 71 years and watching Grandpa take care of Grandma taught me the meaning of real love and loyalty.
I'd like to read an excerpt from a class project I did for a college English class I took in high school. For the project I interviewed Grandma and Grandpa and wrote about teaching in the north vs. the south during the civil rights movement:
Three generations in one room: my father, grandfather and grandmother, and me. Grandpa Walter, hair carefully combed over, reclines in his favorite chair wearing his favorite striped shirt with his favorite slippers. Bruce, my dad, armed with the tape recorder and microphone, settles in the chair between my grandparents like an anxious reporter preparing to cover a presidential debate. Grandma Kathryn, in her striped shirt and slippers, sits in a "borrowed" chair from the dining table with her cup of coffee and glass of iced tea. I sit at the kitchen counter, poised with my pen and paper ready for use, my pen and paper passport to another time - an America I never knew.
Disjointed reminiscing begins in response to my preliminary questions. Our road trip begins; on this journey Grandpa is the chauffeur of our "story-mobile," Dad is the back-seat driver, and Grandma is along for the ride. I am the bug on the windshield - hearing everything, but never speaking above a low hum.
I loved listening to my grandparents tell stories, and am blessed to have been able to capture many of these stories on tape during that interview.
One of my favorite stories Grandpa told me recently - at Christmastime. He told me about how he and Grandma used to dance to the big bands at the college - and that story is especially important to me since I am now a ballroom dance teacher who teaches those same dances my grandparents used to dance.
In closing, I'd like to share with you a letter I wrote to Grandpa in January to make sure I got my chance to say goodbye.
Just like the frond of the card says, You Are My Hero. I'm so proud to be your granddaughter. I love you more than I could ever express in a card, a letter or a lifetime.
You're sick right now and I'm pretty healthy. I'm used to being the sick one - and if I could I would trade places with you so you could be healthy.
I don't like goodbyes, but I believe if you are lucky enough to know one is going to come you should take the chance and say how you feel. I've lost lots of friends and family and it's never easy. Most importantly, I need to know I've told you how much I love you. You've made such a large impression on my life.
I remember once watching a show about the Golden Gate Bridge with you and you were able to tell me more than the show. I'm in awe of all that you have accomplished - from simply living to see your 90s, to being married 70 years, earning your PhD, being a wonderful father, grandfather, great-grandfather (before I was born!), and recently a great-great-grandfather. Most of all I'm impressed at how nice of a person you are. That's what I want to be most of all - a nice person like you.
I've very nearly run out of room on this card so I'll end- even though I could write for a very long time - with a Thank You.
Thank you for being a wonderful grandfather.
I love you, Grandpa. Now and Always.