Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Grandparents


This past Saturday was my Grandma Betty's funeral. It was a beautiful, long-winded, fitting tribute to the incredible woman that she was. And as I sat there in the front row of the church, as people were once again amazed by the amount of work she managed to do in her 83 years, I found myself thinking about my Grandpa.


When I was little, I used to marvel over how quiet my Grandpa Dale was. Grandma Betty was pure energy, firing instructions and I love yous at will, constantly moving and chatting and growling simultaneously at anyone in her path. Such a contrast to her husband, who usually was working quietly, smiling at his grandkids, yet saying nothing. As a small child, I saw Grandma as the fun grandparent and Grandpa as the one who was just along for the ride.


Then, when I was a senior in high school, I spent dozens of hours interviewing both of them for their biography. Grandma usually answered for Grandpa, yet I was still surprised to find out that Grandpa was a wicked ping-pong (he actually still is) player and softball pitcher, very competitive and intense. The image didn't fit with the man who sat before me, taking 10 seconds before answering any of my questions.


I wondered about him. How did he and Grandma even get together? How did they, both on their 3rd marriages, make it last for 53 years? Did he even love her, or did he need a mother for his 3 children in the 1950s? Didn't he hate being ordered around by this bossy-yet-loveable woman?

Sitting in the pew, those questions were answered for me. I thought about the morning my grandma died. My grandpa, who I'd only seen show annoyance when one of the grandkids misplaced one of his tools or a small chuckle when a baby grinned up at him, merely sat on the couch weeping, loooking like he'd lost his best friend. Because he had.

Now, he stared ahead in his best suit, tears running down his handsome, wrinkled face. He laughed softly when funny parts of their biography came up or when somebody mentioned Grandma's stubborn nature. He stoically said goodbye, overcome with grief in his eyes at the private burial in the church cemetery. He whispered to my mother, "Wasn't that just the most beautiful service you've ever been to?" as we walked away, and for a moment, I saw the young man he used to be.


I swear, in the all the years my grandfather has walked this earth, all he has done is work. His ethic has always astounded me, but on Saturday I saw who it was for. He worked for his children's future. He worked for the betterment of his community. He worked for God and served his country.


Yet as he walked away from his wife's casket, I saw a depth of his love that I'd never realized. Yes, he worked for others, but he worked most all those years for his woman, for the partner who matched him imperfectly, for the passionate human being who shaped the majority of his life into what it was. For his Betty.


And my respect, my love for the man who said more with actions than with words, who showed his love through soft smiles and whispers, grew immensely.