Saturday, June 18, 2011

Round Four: Visitations (Part 2) and Heritage

We left Corey and Sarah’s on Sunday after Sarah’s baby shower. Side note: The “shower” concept is unequivocally the feminine realm. I know there are some souls out there who try to breach the gap, throwing co-ed showers. I say, leave it to the women. I amuse myself at every shower I go to, trying to imagine that we’re all men. Oohing and ahhing over pacifiers and fuzzy blankies, little onesies that say “Daddy’s Lil Man”, and telling horrifying birth stories. I picture us guffawing and slapping each other on our manly backs, drinking fizzy punch from plastic cups and eating pineapple chunks off of toothpicks.

So Sunday we left the Gulf side of Florida, and drove across to the Atlantic side, where my mom, stepdad, and grandparents live. My grandparents started out as Satellite Beach “Snowbirds”, traveling from Connecticut to Florida and back again every year, with a stop to visit us in Virginia every late spring.

Here is a huge regret of mine: Because of this arrangement, I feel like I don’t really know my grandparents as well as I could. I’ve communicated with them through letters and emails since I was 12, and send them pictures of my kids every few months. But there is so much I have missed out on. My grandfather is a retired Army vet. He fought in the Korean  and Vietnam wars. He’s a Catholic who eats fish every Friday. I could listen to his stories for hours. But I’ve rarely been given the opportunity. Last winter, my grandpa was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer, which had been found on his liver. Through the help and blessings of friends and family, I was able to go down to Florida with my mom and stepdad shortly after his diagnosis, and bring Atleigh with me, whom my grandparents had never met. We spent 9 days down there, and I got to know them as in adult, in ways that I never could have as a child. It hurt my heart to realize how much I don’t know. How much of my heritage is lost on me. When we left to come back home, I remember pulling out of the driveway, seeing him stand at the door, lit by the glow of the porch light. He was waving every time I turned around, watching us until we had turned off of the street. I thought that would be my last memory of him.

My grandpa is a trooper. He made it through chemo at the age of 81, weighing in at 122 pounds. I don’t know how he did it. Earlier this year the cancer made a reappearance, triggering a new round of chemo. This past week I only got to see him for about an hour on the day that we left. The new chemo has made him sick. He’s lost down to 112 pounds. If I’m being honest, and I know I must be, there is a possibility that that hour I spent with him may be the last I see him. I know he has proven stronger than they thought he would be. He’s always been strong. Even my early memories of him, he is surrounded in this quiet strength. Not blustery, in your face strength, although he did say he used to be a drill sergeant in the Army (now THAT I can’t imagine). So I know there is just as much of a chance that he will beat this cancer again, and I will see him again next year. I pray so. I wish I had 20 more years to know him, to hear his stories, to learn from him. I wish my kids had their entire lives to love him. I don’t know what will happen. But I’ll remember. I’ll remember his hug. I’ll remember my kids sitting next to him, laughing with him, just as I did when I was their age. I’ll remember him standing at the top of the stairs as we left this week, watching us walk to our car, waving every time we turned around to see if he was still there.

And I’ll remember what he’s said to me for as long as I can remember, and what he said to me when I told him good-bye on Tuesday:

“We don’t say good-bye. We say so long.”

Grandpa, Ashton, and Atleigh

Grandpa and Grandma

The kids and me with Grandpa

Four generations: Grandpa, Mom, me, and my kids

I know this blog has been more introspective than the others. Maybe even depressing. Bear with me. These are the things I'm working through. Stay tuned for more. Until then:

So long.

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful way to portray your grandfather. I have heard his war stories for years; he has a dry wit; and I have heard the 'drill' sergeant.
    As for the health, you're right grandpa is in the fight of his life and is not ready to give up. He wants to live to be 100, did you know that? I, for one, hope he makes it. Thank you for the pictures of you, your mom, the kids and dad.
    Love, Auntie.