My grandmother has never been a big woman, but she never looked smaller than when she laid my grandfather to rest this Monday. My grandfather, on the other hand, was a big man. Not in his stature, to be sure, but his presence would easily fill a room.
My grandfather was the kind of person who had friends everywhere he went. Not because he knew people from many places (though he did), but because he had the ability to instantly befriend people wherever he was. Whether it was over a shared story of childhood experiences (of which he had many ready to tell at a moment’s notice) or simply because they happened to be in the same place at the same time. Grandpa flirted with waitresses, talked shop with mechanics, reminisced with veterans and generally chatted up anyone in the same room as him.
Growing up on a farm in south western Saskatchewan in the Depression taught Grandpa to be frugal, but he was also one of the most generous people I know. He doted on us, his grandchildren, often stopping the car for ice cream (all the while declaring that it was the car that wouldn’t let him drive past the ice cream place). More, he was generous with his time. He did volunteer work at the local hospital into his eighties, and when he was no longer able to play the sports he loved, he sold draw tickets at softball games while the other “old timers” were on the field.
I was never quite sure when a story that Grandpa told was the truth, a true story embellished or made up entirely of whole cloth. His gift for storytelling left me with many memories of listening to him reminisce about his time as an airplane mechanic during WWII. It was the war that brought he and my grandmother together. While he enlisted in Saskatoon, he was sent for training to Mont-Joli, where he met my grandmother. After service in Britain and on the continent (from which he came back with many stories, including one about holding a German deserter with his own Luger until the MPs showed up), he was demobilized back to Saskatoon. He made his way back East to court my grandmother, and they were married in 1947. Along the way, he collected even more stories, with which he would regale us at the drop of a hat.
He was also a consummate adventurer. After retiring, he and my grandmother spent most of their golden years traveling together. We grandchildren grew up with t-shirts from Australia, Germany, Singapore, Egypt, Hawaii and all points in between. In addition to tours and cruises, Grandma and Grandpa continued square dancing and fairly cut-throat bridge (well, as cut-throat as you can get with a Whist variant, anyways) as well as a number of other activities.
Grandpa was never content to do nothing. I recall when Mandi and I visited once, when we came back from a trip to some local landmarks, Grandpa (who’d been uninvited from our sightseeing by my grandmother) had dismounted the back door to their house to sand it down and refinish it, just to have something to do. He was a constant force of improvement in the world around him.
While Alzheimer’s took my grandfather a few years ago, I didn’t appreciate his absence until seeing his urn placed in the memorial wall and seeing my grandmother, who’d spent more of her life with him than without, saying her very last goodbyes. So goodbye Grandpa – I know I will see you again, but until then, I hope that you’re getting some new stories to tell on that day.