Monday, May 01, 2006

I was eating a hot dog when Uncle Fred came to the back door. I turned and looked behind me. I was eight years old and it was the spring of 1972. "Carolyn, he's gone," said Uncle Fred. I don't remember what my mother said, I know she hugged her brother. I know that I couldn't finish that hot dog, although Susan scolded me to do so. I can see them at the back door, as clear as I can remember yesterday.

Grandpa lived next door with Grandma in the house they'd built in 1947. He was tall and skinny and could do so many things- carve animals, paint pictures, tan hides to make leather for snow shoes. In the summer he fished and in the winter he ice-fished. Once he had to be rescued from the ice after it broke off and floated out into the bay. He had retired from the phone company in 1964 and had truly enjoyed life in the time since.

I was always over at my grandparent's house, it was only a few hundred feet from the light green ranch style home we lived in. Their house was two stories tall with a basement that had a root cellar that was mysterious and exciting. Upstairs in the bedrooms were old clothes from the 50s to try on, I wonder what they thought of me running around in that old pink ballerina tutu?

But one night there were the flashing lights of an ambulance and Grandpa disappeared away into the hospital. At that time children weren't allowed to go to hospitals, or perhaps my mother didn't want to see him dying, his heart damaged beyond repair. He confessed that he'd had an earlier heart attack, but hadn't said anything, he was scared of doctors. Grandma later said that if she had known that meat and fatty foods were bad, she would never have fed them to Harold. But he was so skinny and tall you wouldn't have guessed his arteries were clogged. And grandma had learned home economics in the late 1920s and they taught meat and potatoes back then.

My parents didn't take me and Bub to the funeral. We walked next door and hung out with Aunt Judy, who had flown in with Uncle Phillip from Kansas. I could see Grandma sitting in the front seat of the station wagon, all by herself. "Why is Grandma in the car?" I asked Aunt Judy. Nobody could say to me why. It was a big surprise, my grandmother's response. She was the strong, outspoken one, the one you wouldn't think would fall apart so bad her hair fell out and she had to wear a wig.

I wish Grandpa hadn't been afraid of doctors, that he had gone when he felt the pain the first time and perhaps back in the archaic days of the early 1970s they might have been able to help him. I wished I could have known him better, wished that my grandmother was not a widow at 61, with a long, lonely life ahead of her. But that's the way it was back then.

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