Monday, July 20, 2009


I've mentioned before that my maternal grandparents raised me. My grandfather was someone I enjoyed being around to the exclusion of nearly anyone else during my early years. Pap and I spent lots of time together. He was born in 1922. His father was a teacher and together with his wife, they also owned a small general store. Pap was the youngest of eight children, of which seven survived infancy. His family was large and they all loved music. Pap loved music. He never learned how to read music, but he could play "by ear", which basically means he listens to the notes, finds it on his instrument, and then continues on with the song. (Coincidentally, my father is a musician and plays his guitar the same way) Pap taught himself to play the piano at the age of four. His brother was playing a simple song (and I'm so upset that I seem to have forgotten the name of the song) and he sat down, at the age of four, and played it himself. His love of music continued throughout his life. When I was a little girl, the Lawrence Welk show would come on Friday nights, when Pap had gone with his band, and because Lawrence Welk played the accordion, I thought he must be Pap. As for his day job, he was an airplane instrument mechanic, he would leave for work around four or five a.m. and would come in my room to kiss my forehead before he left for work. He was not a physically affectionate person. Those times were the only times I ever remember him initiating affection. His way of showing love and affection was to talk to you about everything that he felt was important for you to know. I remember his lessons on fiscal responsibility, the importance of being on time, and on having a good work ethic.

My grandparents weren't "in love" with one another. Their story is one of the least romantic stories I've ever heard. Pap was almost fourteen years older than my grandmother (Nonnie). They married because, well they had to, in March of 1953. My oldest uncle was born in July of 1953..... After five children together, and the added burden of raising their grandchild, their marriage was one of taking care of the business at hand. So, my grandfather opted to spend lots of time away from the house on weekends. When he wasn't "playing" (what we called his music gigs) he would drive to the local donut shop to sip coffee, make new friends, usually taking me with him. I loved those times.

The first major change I experienced was in the winter of 1984. Pap's best friend, Johnny, lost his mother and we were on our way home from her funeral. Pap was driving, I was in the backseat with Nonnie. The car started to weave and I remember someone asking if he was okay. He said he was fine, (he was never one to complain) and he continued on. After a while Johnny became concerned by the lack of control Pap had over the car. He asked him to pull over and Johnny offered to drive. I will never forget the moment Pap stepped out of the car. He lost his balance and nearly fell. My reaction was one that would haunt me for years.... I started to laugh at him. We didn't know it at the time, but he was having a stroke. I laughed. Granted, I was only nine years old, but when I think about that I am so ashamed.The stroke was very hard for him. Pap was a proud man, and to not be able to do the most basic things for himself was excruciating. (As I said earlier, he and my grandmother did not have a loving marriage. My grandmother was an alcoholic, albeit a very functional one, and she smoked like a chimney. Pap did not smoke) Nonnie suddenly was the caretaker of not only me, but of Pap as well. The original prognosis for Pap was that he would never be able to walk again. They didn't think he would be able to speak clearly again. He certainly would never again play his beloved accordion. During this very trying time, I saw a man who did not ever give up. Not once. When we discovered that his wheelchair didn't work in our home, he decided to get a little rolling garden cart. He was not going to stay cooped up in his room. He was getting out. He bought a stimulation unit, to help him regain the use of his right side. For those of you who don't know what that is, it is basically a portable (mild) shock therapy device. He regained the use of his voice, practiced walking until he could do it without a cane, and after about a year, was able to drive again. He joined the city recreation center and started aquatic exercises. One of Pap's friends, and a fellow musician, bought him a keyboard. Pap, who thought music of his own making was gone forever, was able to once again teach himself how to play the keyboard. With one hand. He was able to play the cords and the melody. With one hand.

I used to wonder where this stubborn streak that I have came from. I will usually do something someone has told me I'm not capable of, just to prove them wrong. Looking back, I see that Pap is probably the primary source of that strength. At arguably the lowest point in his life, the showed a tremendous amount of strength and fortitude. He did not give up on himself. He didn't want to lay there while life beat him up. He was a fighter, and he wasn't ashamed of his disability. In fact, one of the stories he liked to tell was one that happened a couple of years before he died.Working as a musician in restaurants, he would of course be there from five or so until the restaurant closed. With his stroke, he was given a handicapped license plate. He would park in the handicap spot long enough to unload his equipment, then he would move his car to a regular spot. He didn't want to take up one of the few handicap spots all evening. On one particularly busy night, all of the regular spots were full (Pap's car being in one of them) while all the handicapped spots were open. Pap goes to his car to pack up and notices a small note under his windshield wiper. This gem of a person left him a note asking him why he was taking one of the regular spots, therefore depriving this person of a place to park, when the handicap spots were available!!! Here my precious Pap, trying to be considerate of others who may be worse off than he, was the recipient of a nasty gram. The nerve!!

Pap left us in September, 1996. He developed congestive heart failure, had a quadruple bypass surgery, and had several small strokes. That ultimately caused the complete loss of his voice. One week before he died, I was with him in his hospital room. None of us were sure if he knew what was going on, and no one knew for sure how to get him to respond so that we would know for sure. I remembered that when I was a little girl, he tried to teach me sign language. Just how to sign individual letters. So I leaned down, and whispered, "Pap do you know who I am?" He nodded his head. I said, "tell me then. Who am I?" He lifted his left hand and started spelling my name. I burst into tears hugging him. I was so glad to know he knew me, but I was crushed to know that he was fully aware of how completely his body had failed him.

On the morning of his death, he reminded us all of his determination. He refused to enter a nursing home when he was still able to communicate clearly and decidedly with us. Pap was now at the point where the hospital could do no more for him. Nonnie couldn't take care of him at home. It was time for a nursing home. In the hospital room Nonnie, my Aunt June, and the nurse made the final decision to place Pap in a nursing home. Nonnie sent June out to start filling out the necessary paperwork. After 43 years of marriage, Nonnie and Pap were not in love with each other, but there was love between them. Before the paperwork had been completed, my wonderful Pap passed away.

He made his decision, and he stood by it. He never did get to that nursing home.... he was too damn stubborn to go.


  1. What a beautiful story! Your Pap sounds like a wonderful man. What a blessing to have had him in your life!

  2. A wondeful story about your beloved Pap. I enjoyed meeting him through your eyes. You were very lucky to have had each other.

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