My Grandfather was 96 years old. He raised three children, brought electricity to rural South Carolina, fought in WWII, baked chocolate chip cookies for six grandchildren, charmed four great granddaughters, and made his only granddaughter feel like the only person in his world.
I was lucky that I got to see him at least two or three times a year growing up, despite the fact he lived 7 hours away. Our family would always get together for a week at the beach (every year for the past 26 years); at Thanksgiving (although once the cousins started marrying, it would only be the entire family every other year); and many Easters. We also would spend every other Christmas with our grandparents.
Despite the variety of times I saw my Granddad, all of my best memories of him revolve around food.
At the beach, we would hoard the chocolate chip and cake mix cookies that Granddad would bake. I’m not sure how long he would spend baking in the week leading up to the beach; I just know that there were always plenty of cookies but they would always be gone by day three. Then there was his chili con queso. Again, I’m still not sure how he made this; I just know it was addictive and I would haunt kitchen on the day I knew he was making it.
My Thanksgiving food memories are not about turkey or stuffing or mashed potatoes. They are all about pancakes. Every year, one morning, my granddad would make us silver dollar pancakes, but, somehow, he would make them so they had crispy edges. (I suspect light frying was involved. Yes, my Granddad fried pancakes.) I would wake up the earliest and get a seat at the table hours before Granddad woke up I was so excited by these pancakes. I never ate them with syrup; just powdered sugar. It was the highlight of Thanksgiving for me.
Food aside, Granddad loved his grandkids. Whenever I talked to him on the phone he would always tell me how good I looked. As a little girl, I loved this. He was thrilled by his great granddaughters. Even as infants, they had him wrapped around their little finger. He would make faces, funny noises – anything to make them smile.
He was also the most independent person I knew. Until he was 94, he lived alone inBarnwell, SC. He drove himself everywhere, from church to the grocery store to checking on other family members younger than himself. He never asked for help from anyone; he was always the one to offer help.
Then, two years ago, he fell. One subdural hematoma later and it was decided that it would be better to move Granddad to a nursing home in Richmond since he was no longer independently mobile. Once he was in the nursing home, he fell again and suffered a second subdural hematoma.
He was 94 years old, had two subdural hematomas and was still coherent. He became the bane of the hospital wing of his nursing home. He disassembled his wheelchair. He escaped from the wing. He broke a second wheelchair. When he met my fiance, only a few months ago, he was engaging, totally coherent, and trying very hard to have a good day. And he succeeded.
Then something happened. We’re not sure what. The nurses suspect a small stroke. But Granddad stopped eating. And drinking. Last weekend, I made the trek to Richmond to say goodbye. My parents, my brother,and I spent an hour with Granddad telling him how much he meant to us and reliving our favorite memories.
How he would always respond to the question “What time is it?” with the response “Quart of milk.”
How he would stand in his driveway, wave, and yell “Yee-haw!” whenever we left.
How, when courting Grandma, he took 20-foot roll of accounting tape and wrote her a letter horizontally using the entire roll because she had asked for a “long letter.”
How, one year at the beach, he and Grandma sported felt Cat in the Hat type hats for the yearly family picture.
While we were sharing our memories, Granddad woke up. I could tell because one eye was cracked slightly wider than the other. He started making this “ha ha ha!” sound during our stories. I like to think that he was laughing with us and remembering the same things.
Tuesday night he passed away. I’m lucky that I got to say goodbye. I’m even luckier that I got to call him “Granddad.” I’m luckiest that I know he and the lessons I learned from him will be with me the rest of my life.
Rest in peace, Granddad. You are sorely missed.