There are some people in this world that you just have a connection with. Miles don’t matter. Infrequent interaction doesn’t matter. Commonalities don’t matter. What does matter is the joy you feel when those miles are crossed… when the interactions occur… when the commonalities are discovered. That’s when you know that a magical connection exists. You feel your soul light up with just the thought of them. And you feel an enormous hollow space in your heart once they are gone.
That’s how I feel about my Grandpa Bill. He passed away this July, just a few days shy of his 84th birthday. He didn’t have a funeral, so he didn’t have a eulogy. There was no memorial service, so there was no one listen to stories and memories of how he impacted their lives. But I want to share what he meant to me, share the memories that are working to help fill the void that’s now there.
For as long as I can remember I’ve been told that I take after him, and it’s always made me a little proud. To me he was someone who confidently knew what he did and didn’t like; someone who loved my grandmother very deeply; someone who’s respect was hard to earn, but for me it was one of the best feelings in the world to know I had it. His approval meant everything to me as a child, and whenever I worked towards a goal throughout my life I did it knowing in the back of my mind that he’d be proud of me when I succeeded. High school, college, teaching, marriage, kids – I wanted to be someone he could brag about. I wanted him to be proud of who I was and the choices I made. When I started dating Jay I remember thinking how much my Grandpa Bill would like him. And when they finally met and he told me that I’d found a good man – well, let’s just say that Jay became even more attractive that day once I knew he’d met Grandpa Bill’s approval.
I’ve never lost anyone that I felt a real connection to, and I was surprised at how quickly my head and heart flooded with memories. Memories like the small planes he flew right off his own property (he’d even mowed his own runway!) and the stories he’d tell about flying and shutting off the engine mid-flight to test his emergency skills. The rusty oil tank on his property that was no place for children, yet he allowed my brother and me to climb the rickety ladder and sit on the top, feeling like royalty looking over our domain. Watching the Long, Long Trailer with him, and listening to him talk about Snow White, his favorite Disney princess. Laughing while he chased pelicans on the beach, trying to capture a photo in one of the cameras he’d bought on one of his frequent pawn shop excursions. The cave tour Jay and I took with him that led us on a 4-mile subterranean journey throughout Mammoth Caves while a tornado passed over us above ground. The surprise wedding album he had someone make for me because he knew I enjoyed scrapbooked albums.
But my favorite memories are the ones that occurred on my wedding day. ❤
The night before my wedding I put everything I’d need to get ready at the church the next day in my mom’s van, including my wedding dress. The next morning my mom and I grabbed our purses and stepped outside to leave… and noticed the van was missing. Gone without a trace. We freaked out, thinking maybe it had been stolen, until my Grandma Skip walked in and told us that Grandpa Bill had taken the van to check out some pawn shops. This was before cell phones were common, and as my grandpa had no idea my dress was in the back we had no way of getting in touch with him and no idea how long he’d be gone. Fortunately, he showed up in time for us to get there with plenty of time to get dressed, although I’ll admit we were a bit panicked for a while!
He more than made up for hijacking my wedding dress after the ceremony though. Jay had rented a Rolls Royce to whisk our newly married selves to the reception, and it wasn’t until we were about to get in the car that we realized our driver wasn’t going to take us anywhere until we paid the $300 remainder we still owed him. We’d completely forgotten about it and didn’t have any money to pay him. At the exact moment we were about to send the driver away and bum a ride with someone, my Grandpa Bill walked up – not knowing our predicament – and said he wasn’t sure when he was supposed to give us our wedding present. He put something in Jay’s left hand while shaking the right, and when we took a look we saw that he’d given us exactly $300. In cash. We turned around, handed it to the driver, and headed off to our reception. (Then he commemorated the event in the wedding album he’d had made. 😀 )
When I was in my early teens my grandpa sent me a special birthday gift. Along with the gift from him and my grandma, there was a small package with a note in his blocky handwriting. It was a silver chain bracelet, and he’d written that when he saw it he thought of me and wanted me to have it. I don’t know if my grandma knew about this extra gift because the note was signed just by him, but I always felt like it was something just between the two of us. I wore it every day, and when it broke I bought another to replace it. When it broke too I went years without a replacement – until Jay took me to Tiffany’s to pick out my Christmas present. I chose a simple beaded bracelet with a Tiffany Blue heart to stand in for the silver chain my grandpa had bought me all those years ago. I wear it every day and think of him whenever I look at it.. ❤
I’ll miss his determination to make sure I was safe – which usually involved his belief that I needed a gun. (We’d had long phone conversations about why teachers should have concealed weapons in classrooms, and once while we were driving he even pulled out his gun and tried to stuff it in my glovebox. I’m pretty sure he just wanted to see what kind of gun would fit in it, but I’ll bet if I’d decided to get one he would have been more than happy to take me shopping.) I’ll miss that blocky handwriting. I’ll miss the way he smiled at me, conveying just how proud of me he was and how much he loved me.
Rest in peace, Grandpa. Gobs of love to you forever. ❤