12 Jul

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My grandfather died last week at the age of 91. I count among my greatest gifts my relationships with each of my grandparents. Grandpa Joe was the last living grandparent I had, and it’s difficult to imagine my life without him.

Most summers, my siblings and I would happily ship off to Grandma Ann and Papa Joe’s house, where we would spend the first leg of our summer vacation. I hold the memories of these trips so closely that their physicality remains with me–the sharpness of just-cut grass on my skin as I rolled down the front hill, the smooth pine of the wooden swingset he built for us by hand, and the cold sensation of rainbow sherbert against my teeth after church on a hot Saturday night.

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I have often said of my grandfather that they “just don’t make them like they used to.” He was a member of the first graduating class of King’s College, and would go on to work there for the next 70 years. He was a man who did the right thing without so much as a thought toward cutting corners for convenience or popularity. His contributions to the community where he spent his entire life are too many to count, but among them is a long history of service to his church, alma mater, and country.

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His was an absolutely unconditional love of and loyalty to his wife, so much so that he often joked he would list the slides of he and my grandmother’s “trip of a lifetime” to Ireland among his assets in his will. In 51 years of marriage they never spent more than 3 consecutive nights apart; when my grandmother was helping to take care of a sick family member, he would drive 45 minutes to visit her through a screen window and then drive back home, as he had a cold and couldn’t risk passing it to my cousin. I once joked that my grandmother’s only downfall had been that she didn’t like beets. He looked at me over his glasses and said simply, “Your grandmother had no flaws.”  I knew that, in his eyes, she truly hadn’t.

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Even as the world’s most upstanding citizen, he had a wry sense of humor and a wonderful capacity for sentimentality.  When I mailed him an absurd glamour shot of my brother and I snorkeling in Sharm El Sheikh, he emailed me in response, “Thanks for the great snapshot, Chrissy. That’ll make the wall.”  He loved all sports (except the NBA), often bragged that he had been diagnosed with a “football fetish,” and had one word for Philadelphia sports fans: “crude.” He loved sweets unabashedly, and was known to meet a dessert menu with a joyful “Oh, boy!” The first Christmas after my grandmother died, I gave him a box engraved with her name for his keepsakes, and he called me later to tell me that it was the best gift he had ever been given.

EK_0015DSC00675_edited_1There are a million stories I could tell– that he taught me how to bowl, listened to me read Charlotte’s Web in its entirety over the phone for my 2nd grade read-a-thon, and once brought my husband to “a little place with great chicken noodle soup” called Bob Evans. I have the lucky distinction of getting him to pose for his first selfie, taken during the visit we revived our root beer float tradition after a two-decade hiatus.IMG-20130908-WA0000And, hilariously, he was wearing the same shirt 4 years later when I introduced him to Facetime. He was less impressed by technology served without a side of ice cream.IMG_7972But his life spoke for itself — the longer I go on here, the more I realize I’ll never capture how extraordinary he was. A friend shared the idea that we only die when our work is done, and my grandfather left this world complete with i’s dotted, t’s crossed, and ledger balanced. I’ll think of him often– in small moments like when I see a beautiful cardinal or blue jay, and in large moments when I hear his voice in my head as my moral compass. It’s terribly sad to know I’ll never visit him on Cherry Lane again, but I take some solace in knowing that the lessons I learned from my grandparents in the past will serve me well into my future and that, one of these days, I’ll get to make memories with my own grandkids as happy as the ones I have with my grandparents.

If, like me, you just can’t get enough Grandpa Joe, you can read his obituary here.

 

 

 

2 Responses to “”

  1. Courtney @ eat pray run DC July 12, 2017 at 8:53 am #

    This was beautiful. A truly lovely tribute. Sending lots of love your way.

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