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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Grandpa, July 1916 - April 2007

My grandfather died the day after we arrived in London; he was 90. He had suffered a stroke a few weeks earlier and it turned out to be worse than initially suspected. Afterward he was apparently a bit confused about his hospital surroundings but remained in good spirits. A few days before he died he fell into a deep sleep and stayed that way until the end.

When I read the news via email my heart sank and I cried. "He was 90," everyone said, but it was still hard. It's hard to imagine going home to no Grandpa. It's hard to imagine Christmas Eve without him pulling a cat's tail with boyish glee. It's hard to imagine Christmas without his post-meal nap and his constant wisecracks and occasional malipropisms.

But, he was 90. He did live long, and live well, it seems. He was survived by all five of his children, all in good health, and all his 16 grandchildren, and both his great-grandchilden, all in good health, all leading interesting good lives. He was a lucky man, and he went the way we all hope to. And when these thoughts crossed my mind I felt better, though I do wish I could have said goodbye in person, and I will miss him.

I don't know a whole lot about his early life. Here in Scotland, following roots from the other side of my family, I'm realizing how little I know of any of my grandparents' lives before I came along with the same self-absorbed tendencies of most babies. I know he was a pilot involved in the WWII effort, and he had some funny stories about using gophers as target practice in Saskatchewan during training. I know he met Grandma, in a Montreal co-op housing unit I believe, and married her around 1945, June 27, same day as my parents 25 years later. I know they had five children. I hear he was a strict father, though its hard for me to reconcile that with the playful and easygoing grandfather I knew. To me he was a trickster, always ready with a randomly wry observation when conversations got too heated or serious.

He was almost 60 when I was born, and 65 when my parents returned our family to its Nova Scotian roots to be closer to the rest of the family on both sides. At that time I associate him with boats on Nova Scotia's South Shore, and later with ham radio, and later still with email and msn chat technology, which he used to keep in touch with us grandkids (and meet people from around the world who he said were keen to practice English). He once quipped about me, "This guy is too damn prolific a writer, I can't keep up with all his web sites!" A little later still, he got into digital cameras.

Grandpa was an engineer by training and he never lost his love of tinkering and learning, and it shows in the wedding photos on my laptop, where he can be seen discussing various digital cameras with several of my cousins. Looking at these photos, I felt grateful that he'd had a chance to meet my wife Miia and benefit from her shoulder massages, gift of gab, and their mutual love of teasing and joking. I also realized that his curiosity lasted his entire life - in some of those wedding photos he can be seen on his tippy toes peering toward the front of the room, perhaps unable to hear the speeches but curious all the same.

I also have one fond memory of a gift he gave me, years ago after he had a heart attack, of a small rubber wheel that could be wound and sent skittering around the room, bouncing off objects, turning, and spinning away. It was technological, curious, a little odd, simple and fun, the perfect symbol of the man.

I will miss him, I will honour him and cherish his memory, and I will try to emulate him.


Anonymous said...

Your mum included me in an email saying that your grandfather passed away. My thoughts automatically turned to you and how you were away from home. It makes his passing a little harder and I just wanted to let you know that your grandpa was always a joy to be around. He'll be missed by everyone that knew or met him.


benjibopper said...

Thanks Jules, thats very nice of you to write; i really appreciate it:

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