One More Gift From Grandpa, As We Struggle to Say Goodbye

My mom’s daddy passed away last Tuesday, and we were finally able to lay him to rest yesterday morning. I was honored to be able to give the eulogy for his service (a copy follows this post, for anyone who may be interested); I saw it as one last gift for Grandpa before we returned him to the earth. But Grandpa gave us the greatest gift of all yesterday, in a way that only Grandpa could.

I guess a little background is in order here. Growing up, my family was extremely close-knit.

My cousins and I at Grandma and Grandpa's, circa 1985.
My cousins and I at Grandma and Grandpa’s, circa 1985. (I’m the blondie!)

Before my little sister was born, my mom went back to work for a while, and I spent my days at my uncle’s house, being watched by my aunt. Needless to say, my cousins and I were very close. We’d eat breakfast together, circled around the kitchen table, devouring an entire box of fruity pebbles and a whole carton of milk in one sitting. She-shuh (Alishia) taught me how to snort Pixy-Stix (definitely NOT something I’d advise trying), and how to get the perfect 90’s hairstyle with AquaNet and a curling iron. Germy (Jeramie) taught me the great art of jumping on the bed.

My Mahnkey (Markie) taught me one of my first lessons in unconditional love. He had just gotten a Rubix Cube, and was so proud of himself, understandably, when he solved it. He’d put it up on his headboard – a place that was supposed to be off limits for the rest of us. Man, was he mad at me when I climbed my little butt up there, took down that cube, and scrambled it all up… but by the end of the day, we were snuggled up on the couch watching t.v. together.

Nobody ever questioned Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Father’s Day or Labor Day plans – it was a given that we’d be barbecuing with Grandma, Grandpa, my uncle, and his family. Christmas Eve was always spent with everyone in Grandma and Grandpa’s basement, unwrapping presents around the fireplace, and nibbling on Ma’s (my grandpa’s mom) homemade popcorn balls.

Grandma and Grandpa moved to Florence in the fall of 1997. All of the grandkids were growing up, and we all slowly went different directions, rarely getting everyone together all at once. As the years drug on, we all kind of fell out of touch, and all communications ceased when my uncle passed in 2009.

In the days following Grandpa’s death, all three of my cousins reached out to my mom and I. I was so pleased to see all of them at the funeral, and even happier to get hugs from them. I think we all realized that life is too short to hold on to grudges, and I’m really hoping that things will be better moving forward.

Thank you, Grandpa, for bringing us all together, and for rekindling my hope that our family can finally be whole again. I love you, and I miss you… and I promise to try a little bit harder.

Good morning, everybody. On behalf of my family, I’d like to thank you all for coming today to help us honor Grandpa and celebrate his life. For those who may not know me, I’m Jenny, the fourth of Guy’s five grandkids.

This past week has been such an emotional rollercoaster, running the gamut from great sorrow to extreme relief, and everything in between. When I first sat down to write this, I figured the words would flow like a river. Instead, they trickled out like a leaky kitchen faucet – not because I didn’t have anything to say, mind you, but because I didn’t know how to compress eight decades of sweat, blood, tears, love and laughter into anything shorter than an epic story rivaling those told by the ancients. But as I thought about all of you – his friends and family – I couldn’t help being struck by the knowledge that Grandpa was one of the richest men I’ve ever known, because he lived a long life, filled with faith, and most importantly, love… and that’s what he’d want us to remember, today and always – the love he felt for each of us, and the love he taught us to share with the world.

I’ll never forget being knee high to a grasshopper, running down the street with my cousins to see Grandpa at the shop. He’d smile that smile of his, and help us each pick out a soda pop. If we were visiting and a customer came in, he always looked so proud as he introduced us all before handling business. To this day, I can’t walk into an auto parts store without that smell of gas, grease, and gears taking me back to that parts counter and Grandpa’s strong, proud face.

I think I can speak for all of Guy’s grandkids when I say that he had a knack for making us feel special. When we were with him, there was no doubt we were the center of his universe. In chatting briefly with his cousin Bruce, brother-in-law Gene and dear friend Pat; reading through condolences from old classmates and co-workers; and reminiscing with Grandma, my mom, and my cousin, it’s clear that Mark, Alishia, Jeramie, my sister and I were not anomalies in that regard. Grandpa made an extra effort to make sure that the people in his life knew they mattered to him. He never forgot to send people cards for birthdays and Christmas, even if they hadn’t spoken in months, or even years. When he noticed that his neighbor was having trouble bending down to get their newspaper from the driveway, he made a point to start going over and delivering the paper directly into the neighbor’s grateful hands. For a long time, he was mowing several of the neighbors’ lawns, plus his own. If someone had a car in need of fixin’, they could always count on Grandpa to be there. And that’s the point. Grandpa was there. If it was important, you could bet the farm he’d be there, come hell or high water.

And then, there’s the greatest love of all. Spanning almost 63 years, Guy and Jill’s relationship is the kind you read about in story books. It’s the kind of love we all hope for, but few will ever achieve. It all started in December of 1952. It was Grandpa’s senior year at Littleton High School, and he was with the varsity basketball team. Jill Smith was the new girl at school, and John Morgan had brought her to watch a basketball game and get better acquainted with her new classmates. According to Grandpa, she was “the most lovely thing he’d ever seen.” A self-described bashful kid, he never quite could work up the nerve to ask her out, so the following spring, Grandma asked him to the Twirp Season Dance. It would be the defining moment of both their lives.

Grandpa made sure she was home on time, but her parents were at a friend’s house, and, in true Grandma fashion, she had forgotten her key. Raised to be the quintessential gentleman, Grandpa stayed with her and they got lost in conversation. He told Grandma that he’d gladly spend an extra year at Littleton High, so long as he could spend it with her, and much to his surprise, she leaned in and kissed him! It was the first time he’d ever kissed anyone he wasn’t related to.

It didn’t take Grandpa long to decide “this Smith girl” was the one he wanted to spend his life with, and he spent hours in prayer, asking for God’s help to make it happen. They dreamed of a life together with 2 kids (a boy and a girl), a house with a fireplace, and a puppy. They were married October 2, 1955 at Littleton Presbyterian Church, surrounded by family and friends. Just before Christmas of 1956, they were blessed with the birth of a son, my dear uncle, Mark, and my mom, Vicki, was welcomed in the summer of 1959.

It never mattered what life threw at them. Together, armed with unwavering faith in God and their love for one another, they always made it through, right up to the very end. She was his first kiss, and 62 years later, she was his last. I think that’s just how God wanted it.

If we only take one lesson with us from Grandpa’s life, please, let it be this: love with everything you have. Love is the most important thing you can leave behind, and it’s the only thing you get to take with you when you go.

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