One year ago, my grandfather died.
The last time I talked with him, he and my grandmother had taken me out to eat at iHop. I hadn’t seen either of them in a while, so naturally we discussed what I was doing at school. The two of them bickered about what he should order; he was on a fairly strict diet, and he always liked to pretend that everything was fine, he’d live to be 90 and see his grandchildren’s children. I made a comment about how if he wanted to see me graduate college, he should stick to his diet.
My memory is so hazy of that day. We had grown apart, or at least it felt that way to me. I’d always loved him dearly, and for a long time I thoroughly idolized him. But eventually I started to see him as human, a person with flaws and mistakes like myself. I lived with him from when I was an infant until I was in preschool. Even after we moved out, we still lived in the same town, so my siblings and I would go to our grandparents’ house almost every Saturday, and they’d drop us off back home after church. Over school breaks, they’d bring one or more of us over to their house. Sometimes we played games and watched movies, sometimes we were put to work. Theirs was the first lawn I ever mowed. I helped my grandfather with wiring, painting, installing light fixtures, plumbing, tiling, crawling in the attic and dropping wires, and performing most of the above at the neighborhood pool. I don’t recall him ever calling a professional to help with the house. Maybe it was pride, maybe it was the cost. I suspect it was both. He taught me how to play chess, backgammon, and several card games. I learned how to do yardwork and what was involved in home ownership. He taught me binary, how to set up a wireless network, and how to check a car’s oil and tire pressure. He did not teach me how to make a healthy meal. He liked to microwave hot dogs until the ends burst open, then he’d garnish them with ketchup, mustard, and pickles, and we’d have potato chips as a side. When I decided I wanted to learn to play the piano, I pulled out his old electric keyboard and sat on the floor for an hour or so every weekend learning how to read the keys and some basic songs. For Christmas that year, he bought me piano lessons. I continued taking them for two and a half years, and became fairly proficient. He liked to let me climb up on the roof and remove branches or clean out the leaf-clogged gutters. Sometimes he’d take photos to show to my mother later. She was never very happy with him letting me on the roof. He taught me how to drive in the parking lot of the local expo center. He parked on a slope, put me in the driver’s seat, and we didn’t leave the parking lot until I could get up the hill without stalling the engine. I still drive that car today, and occasionally I can hear him in the passenger seat, bantering. I became much more aware of his mortality after he was hospitalized for a heart attack. It wasn’t his first, but I was too young to understand then. Now, I was old enough to drive myself to the hospital and wonder if he’d be alive when I arrived. I started to hug him and my grandmother every time we parted ways. I didn’t want to regret not showing him affection while he was still around.
After lunch at iHop, he and my grandmother dropped me off at my house. They chatted for a while with my parents before leaving. I don’t remember if I hugged him goodbye.