I've known Randy's grandfather half my life--twice as long as either of my own grandfathers. From the moment I met this man with the massive hands and bluest eyes, he told me he loved me and insisted I call him Grandpa. This kind, gentle man has been my husband's greatest role model, the most stable and secure part of his childhood.
Twelve years ago we moved Grandpa and Grandma from their home in Danville, Illinois to an assisted-living facility in Columbus, Indiana (which was closer to Randy's mom). For nearly the first time in 60 years, they lived in separate quarters: Grandpa in an apartment at the facility, Grandma in the Alzheimer's wing. When Alice Rose died 10 years ago, we all feared that Grandpa's broken heart would soon take him, as well. But he rallied and has lived these last 10 years soaked in the bittersweet blend of relishing the present but mourning the past.
Today was spent moving Grandpa at last from his apartment into the health-care wing. There were over a dozen of us there, his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and step-grandchildren, sorting through Grandpa's stuff, weighing the importance of one object over another. Grandpa watched it all from his easy chair--these people carting boxes in and out. "Take it, take it!" he insisted. "Don't you want this?" And so Greg took a well-seasoned wooden spoon and a meat grinder; Rich wanted brown shoe polish and his great-grandfather's saw. Randy's prize is Grandpa's army uniform and wool blankets.
Garbage bags full of "junk" were hauled off to the dumspter, and a dozen boxes were destined for Goodwill. Some piles Unce Rich and Randy's mom will sort through later: old letters, boxes of family movies, journals, photographs. What do you choose to keep in your last years? A clock. Your wedding photograph. A picture of your wife, your daughter, your son. Your cane with "ornery old Grandpa" carved upon it. Your favorite blue cardigan. Nearly 94 now, Grandpa has no need for ironing boards and suitcases. What he wants now is to tell his story again and again--to replay in his own mind or to his family the story of one good man's life: how he lived, how he loved, what he leaves behind.