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Friday, 12 December 2008

My Grandpa's Gone

By Linda Davis of Grammology

I sat in a car a thousand miles from home when my son, Miles, called. His voice hoarse with emotion and small through the phone, he didn’t even say hello. ”My Grandpa’s gone, Mom.”


I felt as if something flew out of my chest leaving behind a space and taking my breath with it.

“Maybe I should just get in my car and drive so I can be with my Dad,” Miles continued.

My son’s manhood had been hitting me like a two-by-four between the eyes for quite some time - trying to get me to accept it. And here was another whack - my expressive boy was now a young man holding back emotion, hiding his pain, trying so hard to sound in control and calm, and thinking of ways he could now soothe his grieving father.

He would call later, he said.

There were three more calls that day.

“My Dad was crying, Mom. He said he has to go to Syracuse to bury his Dad.”

“I just had my interview, Mom, I think I got the job. I almost cancelled when I heard about Grandpa, but I did it anyway.”

That night, the last call of the day came.

His words started out slowly, methodically, as if the pace could hold back the locomotive building. Every syllable seemed somehow amplified as they spilled out faster and faster, as his control crumbled into broken shards and the sobbing took hold.

“My Grandpa called me last week, Mom, and I never got to call him back.”

“He’ll never see me grow up like he said he wanted to - to see what I would become.”

“I never got there to say goodbye, Mom.”

Beyond reach, too many miles away, I listened to my grown boy sob wishing I were there to soak up his tears and hold him as I had through so many hurts of his past. Knowing that these hurts were not ones a mommy could soothe and make go away.

Over the next days, while I was far from home, snapshots of my former father-in-law whispered into my head bringing with their soft voice a smile or a tear.

How he had helped carve my young existence as bride and mother. The many things I learned from him were stamped in my soul the way he was unmistakably stamped on my only child’s face from the day he was born. Oh yes, that face, that head, that gait, those mannerisms all belonged to his Grandpa.

When I returned home, I searched for him in stacks of photos, my early life passing through my heart like gentle flutters, stoking memories long forgotten.

While I hadn’t seen him for a dozen years or more, I needed to remember and tell Miles so he could always remember his Grandpa.

  • The photo of him in that winter hat, greeting us in the driveway.
  • And pointing something out in the Encylopedia Brittanica, wanting to ensure that the facts were always correct.
  • And saying one of his famous sayings.
  • And attending recitals, graduations, birthdays, “moving up” days, you name it.
  • Sitting side-by-side with his wife, Shirley, the center of his life.
  • Laughing, making faces, wearing Halloween masks, cracking a joke with Pam or Rob or Tom or Sherry - his kids always close.
  • Climbing into a box with little Miles, a makeshift fort.
  • Working the food pantry.
  • Checking out my engagement ring in front of the church.
  • Examining our new house.
  • Holding my boy, his first grandchild.
  • Wearing his “Gramps” t-shirt with that big proud smile.

I collected them all and wrote captions. I would show every one to Miles.

I would tell him about his Grandpa’s integrity.

  • And honesty.
  • And wisdom.
  • And intellectual curiosity.
  • And love of family.
  • And generosity to others.
  • And ability to cry and laugh with abandon.
  • And the way he understood how different each of his kids was and respected them for who they were.

I would tell him about my hopes for him when he was born - that just as his Grandpa’s face was on him from birth, I had wished that his Grandpa’s heart and soul would be part of him.

Arms laden with these treasures, I went to Miles apartment.

I sat on his couch and looked at the books piled everywhere and the computers running full speed, surfing the world’s treasure trove of knowledge - Miles always wanting to check the facts.

I saw where he and his friends had pow-wowed the night before - this unique group of guys, all special, all unusual, all finding an understanding friend in Miles.

I saw a photo of his friend who is ill - Miles giving her a place to stay and be taken care of.

I saw his “Best Buy” application and thought about how he went to that interview after finding out about his Grandpa’s death - because he’d made the commitment.

Miles told me about his Grandpa’s funeral which was exactly as I had imagined it: “…lines of people…everyone came…even the mayor…my Dad and I pallbearers…Grandma telling us all that he was the center of her life…he planned the whole funeral so no one would have to worry…I cried with my cousins until we couldn’t cry any more…they gave Grandma a flag.”

“And look what they gave me,” he said.

It was a photo in a frame. His Grandpa, that smile. Positioned here and there around the photo were small rectangles of paper, each one typewritten with Grandpa’s favorite sayings.

Hooked on the frame was the winter hat.

“They gave me his hat Mom. And you know what, it has his hair on it, I have his DNA.”

Quietly he described his last goodbye. “I put my college ID in the casket with him, I am going to make him proud.”

I put my photos away. They were not necessary. His Grandpa had done the work himself.

All Miles needed to know was there already. That he descended from a great man. Who loved him and believed in him. And gave him much - not just that face, that head, that gait, those mannerisms. That heart. That generosity. That curiosity. That tolerance. In his DNA.

The whispers still come into my head now - gentle nudges reminding me that he is not gone. He lives in the heart and the soul of my boy. In all of us he left behind.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. Instructions are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


I cried.

Great writing, great essay.

Oh, Linda. What a wonderful story.

Tell Miles we all send him our deepest sympathy in the loss of his Grandfather; but be sure to tell him that there are many young fellows who have grown up without the love and companionship and guidance that his Grandfather gave him and that he is a very lucky young man to have had that.....

Such a special story - thank you for sharing Miles and his grandpa today. My heart to yours.

Linda - What a terrific and moving insight into your feelings about your son and former father-in-law.

Beautiful story.

Really a touching story. Being a grandfather myself, I would strive to be remembered so.
I also wish I could write so well.


I was very moved by your story and the way you were able to capture what it means to cherish a child. Your father-in-law cherished your son, and you cherished your father-in-law:the nicest form of "what goes around, comes around." Nice writing!

Linda what beautiful words and so inviting that my mind was there the emotions felt. thanks for sharing and making us remember the importance of parents and grandparents...


This is a great story and I felt I was there feeling all the emotion remembering the importance of parents and grandparents.

Great post.


The writing is fine because it captures, as well as weaves, through the memory of her son's reaction to the loss of his grandfather. What makes this piece tender and emotional is how the author conveyed this significant event amidst the ordinariness of daily life.

What a sad and lovely story you've told. My children unfortunately will never experience the sorrow Miles experienced when their grandfather dies. Miles is lucky to have loved and been loved by such a grand fellow.

Linda, that's such a touching story. It sounds like Miles is a very lucky man to have had such a great role model and loving grandfather in his life. I lost my grandmother, whom I was also very close to, so I can understand the pain of losing a loved one. Ten years later, I still miss her. I hope you and Miles continue to record the legacies and memories of his grandfather. It will be a real treasure for future generations.

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