This is the second in an occasional series titled Fridays With Grandpa.
I shake Grandpa’s hand as he sits in his green striped shirt, in his manicured backyard on a warm summer’s eve. I feel in his handshake, for the first time in my life, less than the vise-like grip with which my grandfather has always shaken my hand.
As a near centenarian, he is in good spirits as usual, pleasant. Grandpa is especially aglow, surrounded by family, including my Aunt Earlene, his only living sibling. They tease each other like teenagers, his brown eyes filled with laughter, even if a little dimmer now, though his mind is still sharp as a razor.
“Hey, Johnny,” he says, smiling, his cane nearby. It is an unwanted assistant for a proud and able man bred in the times when a strong back and the willingness to work were enough to build a strong foundation for a family.
Our family’s conversation fills the air, meandering from the present to the past. To talk of rural Pulaski, Ill., where he was born and raised. To presidential politics and talk about family, about old memories and the future.
Grandpa asks my son what grade he is in.
“I won’t be around to see you graduate from high school,” Grandpa says.
His words are matter of fact. They bear no hint of sorrow or regret and settle over us like a butterfly on a flower.
“No, I won’t be here….”
I swallow this truth like a tablespoon of castor oil.
I have long accepted the realities of life and death. The transitions of this cycle that come and go, like the seasons, which carry away on their winds those souls whose mortal time has expired.
I have also learned the value of embracing the present. To cherish life. To resolve to live until I die.
Grandpa taught me that and other lessons along our path by the words he has spoken and the way he has lived.
“Let it go,” I remember him instructing. “Don’t let the sun go down upon your wrath.”
“You gotta keep moving. Don’t quit.”
“If I knew I was going to live this long I would have taken better care of myself.”
“Always take care of your family.”
Grandpa taught by example. He brought his money home. He took care of his family. He is loving, caring, gentle. But when his grandkids — any of the 15 of us — got out of hand, he had a way of making us straighten up and fly right.
I remember Grandpa taking us to the park to play softball — the day he got a hit and fell while running to first base. How we all laughed. How he loved being surrounded by his grandchildren.
He was always there. At home. At church. Always a presence, even when some of our fathers played disappearing acts.
He was a rock-steady. Protector. Provider. He wanted to make sure his five daughters always had a place to live. So he bought two apartment buildings-five units total, one for each of his girls.
He is my hero. My oak. And even at 54 and now a grandpa myself, I still get something simply by being somewhere in my grandfather’s vicinity. I suspect I always will.
You don’t have to stand next to the sun to feel its warmth or see its glory. You don’t have to hold the wind to be cooled by its breath and know that it’s there. Some forces simply are irrefutable, their effect tangible, powerful, lasting.
That’s Grandpa, even at 94 years young and still counting.