Remembering a good man

By Gray Hughes

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I lost my grandfather the other day.

It’s been a hard loss for me, but I know he is in a better place. While the last year wasn’t easy for him, I don’t want to reflect on his hardships. Rather, I want to remember him for the loving person he was.

My mother, who moved out here in 2015, moved him out to Rapid City a couple of years ago so he could be close since his health was deteriorating. With me moving out here last August, I got to see a lot of him.

My girlfriend and I would help decorate his room for different holidays. When Halloween and Thanksgiving came around, we made sure his room had a pumpkin. When it was Christmastime, we put up the fake tree my girlfriend had in her old apartment just outside of Philadelphia and we decorated it with him.

I was able to have Thanksgiving lunch with him at his nursing home, I visited with him on my birthday and, when it was his birthday, I brought him a pizza and a brownie. We sat and ate it together and, even though we didn’t say much, I could tell he was happy.

He served in the United States Army, enlisting in an era where most people were drafted. His selflessness to his country is something I will never forget. He died the day before Memorial Day, a day that meant a lot to him.

Grandpa loved music. He was in the drums and bugle corps when he was younger. When he used to drive me he would drum along with the song on the radio on his steering wheel. He used to say he was hard of hearing because he listened to his music too loud and went to too many concerts. He absolutely loved Lady Gaga, calling her the most talented musician of his life.

I remember one time when I was younger he was in the kitchen when I was in the computer room and he was listening to the radio. “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees came on, and I just heard him yell at the top of his lungs: “Oh yes!” I have that same enthusiasm when I hear a song come on that I like.

Grandpa loved sports, but especially football. He was a die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan. My mom took him to see Super Bowl XL when the Steelers defeated the Seattle Seahawks. When Steelers running back Willie Parker broke off a 75-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, the run was towards the end zone in which he was seated. Grandpa always used to say “Fast Willie Parker” was running to him. Aside from the days that his daughters and grandchildren were born or adopted, it was the happiest day of his life.

Even when he was in his assisted living room and his nursing home room, his room was always decorated with the Terrible Towel —the towel that Steelers fans wave above their heads during a game.

He was disappointed that I was a Philadelphia sports fan rather than a Pittsburgh fan, but he quickly got over it. Grandpa adopted a love of the Phillies (my favorite team) so we would have something to talk about and watch together when his Steelers weren’t playing.

As a Philadelphian, I detest Pittsburgh, but if the Eagles were ever to leave Philadelphia, I would become a Steelers fan for him.

He loved to eat. I like to say I got my appetite from him. When he came to visit, he was always the last one eating at the dinner table. When I was in college and my sister was in middle school, my family hosted a Hungarian basketball player who was attending my old high school. He trained hard, so he needed to eat a lot. On Thanksgiving, my grandfather out ate our exchange student.

But above all, he loved his family. My mother and her sister were his pride and joys. He always used to talk about how proud he was of them.

He loved his grandkids, too. My school has a day called Grandparents Day, where the grandparents of the students would come and watch class for a day. He used to say it was his favorite day of the year.

He came to countless lacrosse games and mock trial competitions that I was in. One of my favorite memories of him was at my college graduation. His dementia hadn’t taken over yet and he was happy. There is a picture of him and me after the ceremony, and he was beaming with pride.

He was so proud of me. I used to take him newspapers where my stories were on the front page and he hung on to them.

When I was just out of college, my car broke down (that’s a different story for a different day), and I needed a car. I couldn’t afford to get one without a loan, so he volunteered to co-sign the loan that I needed. All he asked is that I take him out to lunch, which I gladly did.

Grandpa, I know you are happy now that your memories are back. I know you are up there, listening to Lady Gaga while preparing to eat a big meal with an ice cold Yuengling to wash it down. I know Fast Willie Parker will forever be running towards your end zone.

Just know that I miss you, and I love you. I’ll see you again one day.

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