Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A year ago today

Last year at this time I was waking up in North Dakota for a traditional Wheeler breakfast at my grandparents' farm--a pan of homemade caramel rolls and a selection of Grandma's jams and jellies to put on freshly made toast.

It was Grandpa's 80th birthday, and I had flown in the day before to surprise him. We ate our breakfast while talking about the upcoming presidential election. Of all the people I have talked politics with in my life, and there's a lot, my conversations with Grandpa were the ones I always enjoyed the most. He was a steadfast catholic and dedicated farmer who lived almost his entire life on the rural plains of a sparsely populated state.

Grandpa was also an ardent Democrat, but a man who'd only vote for the person he thought could do the job regardless of party lines. It was still early in the election cycle, and Grandpa and I had already made up our minds Obama was the man for the job--much to the dismay of many in our family.

While Grandma washed dishes, Grandpa and I got so busy gabbing about politics we didn't notice her trying to join our conversation. She finally walked over to the table with dish towel in hand and said, just on the verge of yelling, "That's enough talking. It's my turn to say something."

Grandpa and I looked up from our cups of coffee and caramel rolls surprised.

"Well Ma. You have the floor. Speak," Grandpa said.

"Well, you two have already said it all. I guess I just wanted to say I agree," she said.

Grandpa looked at me, smiled his big smile, and said, "She's getting assertive in her old age. I like it."

I think the impromptu conversations like this one that took place before, during, and after meals, are what I'll miss most about Grandpa. They weren't always about politics. Sometimes they were about my career, and other times they were about my love life.

Unlike most women my age, I took delight in talking about my relationships with Grandpa. Maybe because unlike most grandpas, he took an interest in knowing.

It's only been a few weeks since I lost Grandpa very unexpectedly in an accident on the farm, and today is an especially hard day. Even though I'm fairly certain he went the way he always said he wanted to go, fast and without pain, I think about and miss him every day.

An image of Grandpa bringing me solace during this difficult time is the picture to the right. I took it on his 80th birthday last year, the day that started out with the story above.  I remember taking it because the look of complete contentment on his face. He was sitting in the living room he'd built with his dad many years before while taking in his wife, children, and grandchildren all playing games and laughing.

It had been a long and wonderful day of surprises for Grandpa. Not only had his loving wife of more than 60 years planned a huge surprise party with many of his friends and family, but he also received a gift that fulfilled his lifelong dream of a fishing trip to Alaska. I also surprised Grandpa with a video montage of pictures showing the complete and full life he'd lived (full video below).

This photo, to me, encapsulates a quote I read yesterday in the book Mortalism: Readings on the Meaning of Life. I bought the book a few days ago to help me figure out all the thoughts and emotions running through me right now. The quote this picture reminds me of is from the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus:
"But the wise man neither begs off from life nor does he fear the loss of it. For life does not offend him, nor does not being alive seem an evil to him. And just as he doesn't automatically choose the largest amount of food, but the tastiest dish, he doesn't grasp for the longest span of time but the most pleasant one."

1 comment:

jennifer said...

beautiful and touching. I bet you were as much a gift to him as he was to you....xo