First, I always envisioned him having an official funeral, maybe because I’ve never been to one and I have no other reference than what is portrayed on television. Second, I always imagined I would say something if I could summon the courage to speak in front of my family without crying. The third and most important thing in my imagined scenario was that grandpa would have the last laugh. This was the scary-but-funny part of it: what would he do? Would he have arranged, years before, to have some sort of practical joke played on all of us as we sat around talking about him over his casket? Would he have written little notes, saved for who-knows-how-long by the agreed-upon mortuary to pass out on this day? Would his little notes have invoices included that listed every unpaid debt that he still expected to collect?
Nels, you still have my level. Elmer Jr., get off your ass and go stack some wood. Linda, you owe me $11.80 for gas when you borrowed the car in 1981. And so on. My relationship with grandpa was often viewed as odd by outsiders, but I never cared. I don’t know how it started except perhaps it was the Stars-Through-The-Coat-Sleeve ritual that planted the seed. Grandpa was the scariest guy I knew; one never crossed grandpa if they knew what was good for them. So I never did, but I thoroughly enjoyed pushing that envelope whenever I could. It started benignly enough. Grandma taught me how to short-sheet their bed, which she silently endured just so that I could “get” grandpa. Then came the salt and pepper in the sheets until I grew tired of bed pranks and since he knew it was me anyway. I graduated to pumping his favorite boots – and then his morning slippers – full of shaving foam, which I of course thought was hilarious. Grandpa got me back by not responding at all. He went right on wearing them out to his shop, knowing I was probably watching and disappointed in his non-response. Grandma and me had a laugh in the breezeway nonetheless. Then I met my future husband and wondered if I should take him to meet grandpa – the then-most-important man in my life besides my father. Knowing in my heart that I had found a man with many of his elements – and quirks – I desperately needed grandpa’s approval before lending my heart to any man. Besides fearing grandpa’s apathetic disapproval, I feared what prank he might play on me during the visit. I think the “gotcha” was in the absence of any prank at all; he knew (and had forewarned) that I’d be expecting it. Instead, the two of them went off to cut firewood with grandpa’s arm in a sling, impressing Scott with his work ethic and hard-working, practical nature. So, with his unspoken blessing and my father’s approval, I married him. And it’s funny to me sometimes, because often I complain about him under my breath, often sounding to myself just like grandma did when grandpa would irritate her. It makes me feel like I indeed married the right man. A couple of years ago I visited grandma & grandpa and since it had been awhile, decided to deliver a good, juicy prank. Just because I was married now and, in his eyes, “settling down,” I also wanted to get back at him for that “..don’t go gettin’ to be two axe-handles wide on us..” remark. Shortly before leaving the property for my trip back home, I coated his black toilet seat with molasses – giggling the whole time but also knowing that I’d better say my goodbyes fast. When the phone rang shortly after I arrived at dad’s in Alameda, and the look on dad’s face turned serious as he handed me the phone and said, “It’s grandpa,” I knew I was in deep shit. “Hello?” “Did YOU do this?!? You know you just cost me a trip to Kaiser in Santa Rosa!” “Grandpa, are you ok? What happened? I’m so sorry!” (starting to tremble) “I didn’t know what I had done to myself. I got into bed and stained the sheets - grandma had to put all sorts of stuff on my rear to stop the burning which made it worse, then she had to drive me to the hospital with my ass out the window!” “But grandpa, it was only molasses!” (crying now) “You shouldn’t have gone that far.” (silence) “I’m sorry grandpa.” Grandpa’s laughter at that point didn’t make me feel any better – my whole body was in shock and trembling as I thought I had really hurt him. The fun was over, I thought, and I can never go back there. Of course I did, and he never brought it up again. I got him, but he got me better that time. I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared – or sorry – in my life.
That was the last joke, and it was on me.
* * *
I admired grandpa without being fooled that he wasn’t human or that he didn’t make his own mistakes. I also realize that what a granddaughter sees can sometimes be sugar-coated. But I owe grandpa a lot in terms of what he taught me, more by example than anything else. I admired him because he was a man of his word and he expected the same in return. He and grandma raised seven children who I think are outstanding people. The way in which his progeny lead their own lives will prove to the world every day that grandpa was a good man. Every promise he made I knew he would keep.
Every time we said goodbye he didn’t hesitate to say, “I love you.”
* * *
I still feel like although there is no funeral to attend and no official eulogies to be said, there still might be a joke out there. I’m not letting my guard down just yet, grandpa. Or maybe there is no joke... maybe it’s a wish my heart is making so that I can hold onto you a little longer. Whatever the case, we’ll resume the pranks when we see each other again.
I find it to be a burden, more than anything, to think about death in advance of it; about how I might react or how it may play out. I can’t help it – perhaps it’s a way to prepare myself for the inevitable.
I never had any illusions that the people I loved would never die.
I’ve wondered about grandpa in this way periodically since I was a teenager, although I have to admit more frequently in recent years.
Goodbye grandpa, I love you too.