Merry Christmas, Grandpa George!

21 Dec

I always think of my Grandpa George during this time of year.  As a child, I always got just the right trinket from Grandpa George.  Unlike my Aunts, who gave me awkward, age-inappropriate gifts, and my maternal grandma who sometimes would remember, and sometimes even included a card and return address to tip us off who sent whatever it was–he always knew just what I wanted.  I had no idea until after he died that my parents were behind his gifts.  He always sent money, and if he didn’t (I still have no idea if he always remembered) my parents would buy something in his name.  Being so far away from family–that meant a lot to me, and sticks with me still today.

Hopefully, my writing will convey my true intent–I love my grandpa even though I knew there was something about him. . .  I don’t want to come across as spoiled, or hateful, or evil, but maybe this will.  That’s not my meaning at all though–just know that.

Laurel's pics 196

You probably remember every other summer we visited extended family in Montana, which included my only living Grandpa.  Instead of looking forward to this, I dreaded it, hated it, and feared it.  Then felt guilty for feeling those things.  There was something about my grandpa I found unsettling.  I’m not sure what it was exactly.  He was always kind, but sort of in his own world too.  Sometimes in the middle of a visit he would just resume his television show and be largely oblivious that we were still there.  He (and his various houses and apartments) smelled a little funny, and his hands shook.  I didn’t know what (if anything) was wrong, but even though there was family-love between us, I didn’t want to hang around him very long.  It still makes me feel terribly guilty.  But I was just a little kid, so cut me a little slack.

My grandpa never called me by my proper name.  I don’t think he had true dementia, but he always got my dad’s (his oldest son) identity wrong at first too.  Granted, he did not see us often.  When my Dad entered his house (room at the assisted-living in later years), Grandpa George would go through the list of his own brothers, then my uncle, before finally guessing my dad’s name.  Anyway, for whatever reason, Grandpa could never really get my name right either.  He would settle upon some L-name or other, usually Laurie, Laurel's pics 050never Laurel, my given name.  But despite this chronic mistake I never doubted his love or adoration.  My grandpa relished me, anyone could see that.  Despite getting my name wrong, I always knew he cared.  Still, to this day I do not get upset if people mis-label, mis-pronounce, or otherwise mistake my name.  I figure if my own grandpa couldn’t ever get it, and I couldn’t say it until I was three years old, it can’t be all that important to be a stickler over it.  It’s one of the few things I’m NOT a stickler about, funny enough.

A large part of the dread I felt was just not knowing.  I had heard snippets that my Grandpa had tried to enter the military, but was refused based on some or other mental issue.  The diagnosis was never made clear to me.  I also heard that he was made to cook for all the farm workers even as just a little guy, and his brothers (maybe his father too) beat him pretty badly on a regular basis.  The poor man had also been through the Laurel's pics 195horrors of shock therapy, which made him fearful for the rest of his life.  But back in those days you were just “crazy” so I don’t know what prompted this.

I heard that he was a big drinker, and my aunt tells stories of him taking her and her younger brother to the bar and making them sit outside on a bench (in cold Montana) while he would get wasted for hours.  And a few times my dad would go in with the intent of our family visiting my Grandpa, but he would be drinking, so we would leave, without me seeing him.  Also his hands shook.  He was incontinent for awhile, and later my grandpa was diagnosed with diabetes.  Again, I was never privy to his medical conditions, so instead of compassion, I felt weary towards him.  Today, I wish I had some diagnosis to attach to my Grandpa George.  I’m glad mental health has come so far from just “crazy” or “dirty secret” too.  I think with education comes understanding–and that unlocks many doors.  Not to mention gives a clearer picture of hereditary genetic conditions.  I find it very scary that some undiagnosed mental illness runs through my family, that I am susceptible to get.  But this post is not really about me–so that’s a topic for another day.

My memories, aside from the thoughtful gifts, are of visiting Grandpa in the summers.  He would immediately want a ride.  Usually we went to the store.  At that time, in that small Montana community, all the containers seemed to be made of glass.  I was always on edge while my grandpa’s trembling hands would reach out, knocking the glass ketchup bottles in proximity, to grasp one.  It made me very nervous and I worried he would topple all the bottles to the floor, spewing red ketchup everywhere.  Shopping with Grandpa was very nerve-wracking.

Once, my friend Crystal and I danced with Grandpa George at the home.  He was very happy when Laurel's pics 508he was dancing, and you could tell in his day he probably danced a lot.  Maybe my love of music comes from him, because I guess he was also very proficient at playing the accordion and was in a band for a time.

I also remember Grandpa telling my dad that he liked the retirement home, because “A women–she bathes me, Jim.”  Even old dudes still have testosterone I suppose.  Anyway, the comment still makes me laugh when I think of it.  I’m glad my Grandpa was well taken care of and happy at the end.

So Grandpa George, even though I didn’t know you well, and didn’t understand you–I love you.  I hope you’re having a happy holiday season in heaven 🙂

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