Wednesday, February 21, 2007
My grandfather was a Titan. he was a creature out of myth and legend, and every time one of us grandkinds were in his presences, it was like being in the presence of a deity. I honestly believed, when I was four years old, that he was the one whose fleet of planes I rode on to come to California every summer to visit him, and it was he who kept the skies clear so that my parents adn I would have a safe passage. I also believed, because he told me it was true, that chocalate milk came from brown cows, but this post is not abou disillusionment.
He's gone now. He died Saturday, February 17th at 3:50 p.m. I would say that it was after a long struggle with cancer, but the struggle wasn't all that long, actually. He was diagnosed in September, went through a few months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, found out that the cancer was going to be untreatable, and then he suffered a fairly rapid decline. The last week he was mostly unconscious, the morphine keeping him out of pain as one by one his bodily sytems failed. He didn't want to linger. He didn't want to be paralyzed once the spinal cancer broke his back. He didn't want to be a burden.
He was born into poverty in Westwood, Oklahoma, moved with the westward migration to California logging country, started his family there before beginning his own business in the bay area. He built roads. That's what he did with his life. He left a tangible path behind him, as well as three children, ten grandchildren, and seventeen (and counting) great-grandchildren. He worked too damn hard his entire life, but in the end he was a success, mostly through sheer force of will. He began in poverty but he ended his life in affluence, solely through his own efforts. He loved music. He played the guitar. He knew every song Merle Haggard ever wrote, and would perform them in his living room with his best friend, John.
He wasn't perfect. He made mistakes. Some of them huge. But he owned up to them and made them right. He found faith in the latter half of his life, but once he found it he took it seriously. His role in his church was as the head usher, which he expanded to become something like the official host and greeter to anyone who attented First Baptist church in Cottonwood.
I owe him for many things, not the least of which is, of course, my life. He paid for my first year of college. It was his love of Northern California which caused him to retire here, and then, introduced it to me, and I fell in love with it too. He provided a place for me to run to when I needed a change in my life, offering me a home and a connection to family. He helped me buy my first house.
He had a way of seeing through the world's bullshit, mostly because he was a great BS'er himself, as he was proud to tell anyone who'd listen. And then he'd prove it. He was gragrious, and loved people, and if there was anyone my grandfather had no use for, you could be assured that there wasn't much use for that person at all. You could argue with him and tease him, and give his own nature back to him and he'd love you for it, and sometimes he'd even admit when he was wrong and you had a point. In his later years, he even came to be able tyo admit when he didn't know something. The times when we were really annoyed with him, though, was whn we knew he was right and we didn't want to admit it. This happened a lot.
He loved kids. You never had to beg him to babysit, he just loved having them around. He got energy from them, enjoyed their spirit and their adoration. And they did adore him. The picture I have posted is from last halloween. Already sick, he could not resist dressing up in his Superman costume (complete with Willie Nelson hair), simply to delight my son, who had dressed as Superman himself.
When it came time for the end, the Hospice nurse told my family that he was not the kind of man who could leave with us all watching him, so we all went into the otehr part of the house after saying our goodbyes. Then, within ten minutes, my grandmother holding his hand, he left us. My grandmother told us that he squeezed her hand thre times and smiled. He'd told my mother that he was ready to go, partly because he wanted to see my brother, Jeremy again. I got the chance to tell him that I loved him and that he'd always been my hero. He told me that he was glad we'd always been "buddies" and that I was to take care of Sarah and Drew for him.
And now he is gone, and the world doesn't feel like the same place. It's as if Atlas himself is no longer holding up the world. The way he lived, though, he taught all of us to hold up the world for ourselves.
So that's what we're going to do.