Monday, April 30, 2007

The Last of a Generation

I have been blessed. I am the oldest of the youngest group of grandchildren on my mother's side. The same can be said of my father's side. My mother is the youngest of her siblings, my father the oldest of his. That said, their parents weren't far off in age. Why have I been blessed? I had all four of my grandparents alive and well throughout most of my life. My parents tell me, and there are pictures to back them up, that I also knew some of my great grand-parents, but I have no memory of them. This started to change when I was in University. My mother's father died of prostate cancer when I was 21. My father's mother passed away in October of 2005, possibly of pneumonia, possibly of a stroke, likely of old age. My mother's mother passed away last November while I was in Banff.

The last of my grandparents passed away on April 13th. My father's father, John. 91 years old. From what I've been told, he just gave up. He stopped eating, stopped talking, and slept his last few days away. I don't blame him if this is true. As a friend of mine said, if I ever reach 91, I think I'd be pretty tired. When my grandmother, his wife of over 60 years, died, he slowly starting slipping away. Those who saw him claimed his memory was failing and his mind was slowly going. I think there was just nothing worth remembering. The same four walls, the occasional visit from one of his few surviving friends, scheduled meals, and regular nurse visits to make sure everything was still alright. On my most boring day, I have more excitement than that.

My grandfather was a bear of a man. Growing up, he was the biggest person I knew. At least 6'2" (although when you're 6, that may as well be 10 feet tall), and built like a grizzly. Even as he grew old and stooped, he still filled a room. A voice like thunder, but more bluster than storm. I never feared him, but you knew not to cross him.

The farm always had dogs. Duke was the first I knew, the greatest German Shepherd that ever lived. Then came Rex, the dumbest German Shepherd that ever lived. Next came Thor, the meanest German Shepherd that ever lived. Thor liked nobody. He chased my cousin and I around the farm until we fell, scraped and terrified into the living room (to be fair, I imagine we thought it was fun at the time); he nipped at my grandmother when she tried to feed him, which she never did again. However, he NEVER crossed my grandfather... until one day. He leapt and snapped at him as he was being brought food, and he was cowed by one holler. The next day Thor was back at the pound.

As the years passed and we both grew older, I discovered the unbelieveable amount of charm this old farmer had. He'd flirt with waitresses a quarter of of his age and have them legitimately blushing. He had dozens of phrases that he pulled out regularly that always got a smile, even if everyone in the room could sing along with them. Anyone who was his friend stayed his friend for decades, and loved to visit and shoot the shit. He regularly "stole" flowers for my grandmother or vegetables for the table. The fact these came from the fields of old friends didn't change the tale of thievery.

Even though he spoke less in recent years, he was still as sharp as they came in his 90's. This is a man who never had anything worse than a cold into his 80's. No health problems, no disease, no hospitalizations, nothing. He was briefly sidelined by an infection when most people his age are taking a pharmacy's worth of pills, and was back to normal in a couple months. I can only hope I have a fraction of his good health and vitality.

He loved us all, but had no idea what to do with children. As we grew older, he became more comfortable with us. This was a man who loved to go out golfing with his friends, spend his winters in Palm Desert, and go to his "hunting lodge" to hang out with the rest of the codgers. How much was he that guy? He founded a golf club near Chilliwack, started an annual tournament in Palm Desert, and founded the lodge his memorial will be held at -- an old boy's club that still has a waiting list.

I've always called him a farmer, but in truth he never had more than a large vegetable garden on his hundreds of acres of land as long as I knew him. Once there was livestock and workers, and the farm was at one time the largest chicken providers in the Fraser Valley. Lillydale chicken? Some part of that is the old Willows from days of yore. Bought out at least a few times since it was in the family. The farm was sold years ago, but the house still stands, and there be cows there again. It was always odd for me as a teenager and through my twenties to go out West to visit and take an elevator up to their condo... not the long service road past the farm smells in Yarrow on the way to that poplar-lined drive.

I'll be heading out that way again next week with my family to pay our respects, see the well-wishers, and say goodbye one last time. I imagine we'll swing by the farm on the way to The Hole-in-the-Wall, and stay in the condo, and visit with the ghosts who will be waiting for us. You are already missed Grandpa, but at least you have Granny and enough friends to fill a barn waiting for you.

I have been blessed with an endless supply of happy memories and love that I will carry with me until my grandchildren are remembering me.


TenMile said...

That'll do it. Not a bad ghost anywhere in the condo. Think I would have liked him.

Fuel55 said...

Nicely written.