I have two very vivid memories of my grandfathers. They are vivid because of how much they scared me at the time. But over time I have come to treasure them as much as I feared them and I will never forget them.
When I was fourteen years old I got a babysitting gig from my Grandma B. She had just been hospitalized for pneumonia and she called and asked if I could stay with Grandpa.
I really knew my Grandpa B in part for his World War II stories; how he waded through water filled with what he thought was brush but was actually snakes, how he sat on a mountain top and could make out a flash from one of the nuclear bombs that hit Japan, how he traded spots with someone in line when they were being assigned to Europe or the Pacific, how he did a USO show with a group of guys in black socks and tutus (I actually have that picture, because it was given to me after Grandma passed).
I also knew Grandpa B as a guy who loved writing, making art, buying silly stuffed animals, watching the weather channel and watching movies about world war II primarily to point out how inaccurate and falsely full of bravado they were.
But that winter when I watched him I had one of my most vivid memories of him. He told me he was taking the dog for a walk and he left the house. I watched him as he got out the door and went to the end of the driveway and he stopped.
After a minute I was wondering if he was second guessing whether he had the energy, after five the background noise of the TV faded for me and he still had not moved, after ten and still no movement I decided to go fill up my coffee mug (Coffee was like water in Grandma and Grandpa B’s House), after twenty my coffee cup was empty but now I was frozen to the window shade still watching and waiting for him to make a move.
His dog sat there the whole time too, it was amazing show of obedience. Grandpa maybe turned his head a few times, the expression on his face never changed. He seemed in awe of the world around him, and at the same time unaware. After exactly one hour, I opened the door and asked him how his walk was, never admitting that I was watching him the whole time. He simply responded, “Good.”
Over the next few days he would leave for the walk almost at the same time, and about half the time he walked. The other half he stood there the same as he did that day. I would watch him on the days he “froze” from the window and about an hour in each day I would open the door to ask him how his walk was and he would respond, “Good.” On the days he actually walked I worried too and I would wait for him by the window the same as if he were standing at the end of the driveway.
Fast forward five years and after my departure from my football career, I moved in with my Grandma and Grandpa Feyen. When I left for school my mom had become a foster parent and when I dropped out of college there really wasn’t room for me in her house.
I tried a couple of different living arrangments but one day got a call from Grandma Feyen asking if I could come help her out and she would only charge me $150 a month for rent. Really the only thing I did to help for the most part on a consistent basis was mow the lawn and shovel the driveway. In retrospect I got a lot more from her because she taught me immeasureable amounts about responsibility, love and what it meant to be married. She also darned my socks (a lost art).
Grandma was essentially taking care of Grandpa full time. It was amazing the amount of work that she did, cooking three meals a day (not much instant ingredients in her bag of tricks), making sure Grandpa had his medecine, helping him bathe and on and on and on. Her only solice is that for the most part he could be content in front of the television when he was awake and they both enjoyed watching the Wheel of Fortune and she could sit a play solitare forever.
Grandma would also be happy when I would share late night ice cream sundaes with her, late night because I could only go get them once Grandpa was in bed because he couldn’t have them. Banana Splits with no nuts was her sundae of choice.
On the day I got my Grandpa Feyen scare, I won’t forget the tone Grandma used when she yelled down to me in the basement to come and help and I came as quickly as I could. I had no idea what she was calling for and when I got up there I was not prepared to see Grandpa laying on his bedroom floor unable to help himself up in any way. He hadn’t lost his voice though and was pretty adamant that someone needed to get him back to bed. I reached down to lift him up and followed Grandma’s instructions explicitly, he felt so weak and fragile. We got him back into bed and he laid there breathing hard, staring at the cieling and he didn’t say a word once he got into bed.
Both of these moments scared me so much because they were so contrary to what I knew my Grandfathers to be. Grandpa B was full of energy, stories and always on the go. Seeing him frozen in time was scary.
Grandpa Feyen on the other hand was always someone that I saw as a strong farmer who killed chickens with a hatchet, swatted cows with rubber tubing and didn’t hesitate to do the same to a kid that got out of line. As I helped him into bed it was like all that strength was gone.
In retrospect though, I like to think that both of them were doing the same thing. Thanking their lucky stars for the full lives they lived in those exact moments, Grandpa B standing at the end of the driveway and Grandpa Feyen lying comfortably back in bed.
I picture them thinking about all the fun times they had, all the kids and grandkids they played with, the fantastic women in their lives, the contributions they made to the world and maybe what they meant to me.
So what, if in reality Grandpa B actually thought he was on a walk, like Grandma B later told me, and he had idea that he was actually just standing there.
So what, if Grandpa Feyen was going through a diatribe of four letter words and probably pissed that Grandma couldn’t get him up without my help or get himself up.
Hopefully they have the same memory up in heaven that I have of those events today, the fear mostly melted away.
With that said, this is my last post of 2011. Bring on the New Year I have contributions to make!!!!