Saturday, December 15, 2007

Sayonara Vernon-san

My maternal grandfather died on Wednesday. We were expecting it, just not necessarily so soon. He was 83 and, in the last month of his life, went from puttering around in his garden to becoming completely incapacitated.

Unlike the funeral for my paternal grandfather two months ago, I'm not anticipating much humor at the funeral today. (For the craziness that was my grandfather's funeral, click here and here. I swear everything I described is true.) As far as I know, no one will show up wearing their homecoming dresses or jeans and sneakers. My grandmother, remembering the Southern Baptist minister who preached a hellfire sermon at my other grandfather's funeral, has instructed the minister to stay away from Hell and its residents. This minister is Lutheran, so I think everything will be just fine. We will be at the same funeral home, so I suppose it's possible we'll get to hear the circus version of "Amazing Grace" again.

My grandfather was a World War II veteran. He fought in the Pacific arena and was at Iwo Jima when the flag was raised. He came back to Virginia unharmed and married my grandmother who had waited patiently for him -- a 61-year union which produced four children, eight grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

He was not a perfect man -- I know he certainly irritated the shit out me regularly and I know he pissed his children off with great frequency -- but he was the family patriarch and we loved him even as we bitched about him. When I was growing up, I was a bit scared of my grandfather. He tended to be stern, even with those whom he loved, but that's just how he was.

There were some great moments, such as the times he would swoop my grandmother into his arms and dip her low for a kiss. One time after they had been married for a number of years, he did the kissing swoop in a hotel lobby -- and dropped my grandmother onto the floor. Apparently she weighed a little more than he had remembered.

A few years before my grandfather retired, he traveled to Japan on business. He embraced the opportunity to travel and learn a new language. He made friends there and loved it when a letter with a Japanese postmark came in the mail.

My grandfather was the consummate tinkerer and was always messing with something on the farm where they lived until just a few years ago. Using a black garden hose and a sunny part of the yard, he put together a solar water heater that was so effective that we nearly got second degree burns when we washed our hands.

When my grandparents moved into their retirement community last year, they would walk across the parking lot from their condo to the nursing home, where my paternal grandmother is a resident. Even though my parents have been divorced for over 30 years, the two families have remained friendly. My two sets of grandparents have known each other for over 40 years but they never called each other by their first names. It was always, "Hello Mrs. H---. How are you?" "Oh I'm just fine Mrs. D---. And you?"

I saw my grandfather for the last time two months ago, at my other grandfather's funeral. Ironic. So I'm driving back to my hometown today to say one final goodbye.