July 9th. A day to remember for me for two different reasons. Both my Grandfathers died on July 9th. Nannu, my Dad’s Dad, 19 years ago today and Pepere, my Mom’s Dad, 16 years ago today.
My experiences with these two men couldn’t have been any different. I never met my Nannu. I believe he was 96 years old when he died, about two weeks before I made my first trip to Malta when I was 15 to meet both my Grandparents, whom I had never met. He had a massive stroke and passed away before I ever got to meet him. So my interaction with him was just letters and phone calls. There was no Skype back then, and I think that even if there was, he probably wouldn’t have used it. I’m very sorry that I never got to meet him face to face. Life happens like that sometimes, and at least it was the start of a really nice relationship with my Nanna, who I got to know much better until her passing in 2005.
My experience with Pepere was something different altogether. He was in my life from the beginning. Some of my first memories are sitting on his knee, being juggled in his arms, being sung to and hugged and comforted by him. When we lost him to cancer at the age of 72, when I was 18, I was devastated. I lost a piece of me and I still miss him so sometimes. He was a wonderful man, a gentle giant, who was loving, and sensitive, and strong. I used to spend my summers on his lap on his tractor, or following him around as he worked outside, or inside his wood shop, making beautiful things. Growing up my parents worked a lot, and I never really had outside babysitters – Memere and Pepere were my primary caregivers. I learned so much from them, including the value of family, I inherited
my love of Christmas from Pepere (and my Mom too). Mostly, I learned how to have fun. Oh, and to always think before I spoke. His big thing was this: Always think before you speak. It only takes a second and you may be saving someones feelings.
Grandfathers are so important. I feel bad for my husband Joe, who was very young when both of his grandfathers died. He has very limited memories of them. I am sorry that he never got to build relationships with them, and had them to help shape his life and his personality. Though every time he loses his wallet or keys, Joe’s mom will remind him – “You’re just like my father!” So even though he didn’t really get to know him, obviously a piece of him stayed with his grandson. We went to visit his grandmother at the nursing home a couple days ago, and there is a picture on her board of Joe when he was about 2 years old, with his Dad and his Papa. Every time we go she points this picture out to us and says how proud he was of his only grandson – at the time he died, Joe was his only grandson. She now has 13 grandchildren and 19 great grandchildren, many of them boys. It’s too bad that he didn’t get to meet them all. At least Joe has vague memories, many of his other grandchildren have none at all. I find that terribly sad, as from what I have heard, he was a wonderful man.
Nicholas is very fortunate to have both of his grandfathers (and grandmothers too, of course) in his life. He adores both of his grandfathers and they adore him.
He sees more of my Dad because he lives closer and helps us with caregiving. My Dad will take him for coffee sometimes if my Mom is working and Dad is watching him. He runs to the door to greet Dad whenever he comes in yelling “Grampa, you’re here!” It’s awesome to see, and it warms my heart, especially after being so close to my Pepere, to see the relationship between them. I hope and pray that my Dad lives to a ripe old age like his parents did, so that Nicholas has many more years ahead to build on that relationship, and he will have as many wonderful memories with his Grampa as I do with Pepere.
He doesn’t see Joe’s dad as often, because they don’t live as close. But he does have a great relationship with his Papa as well. Joe (Sr.) will sit on the floor and play trucks with him and though he may play shy for a bit when they first arrive at our house for a visit, or we arrive there, it doesn’t take long for him to warm up to Papa and chat his ear off. A week or so ago we went in to enjoy the pool at their house and after a few hours I think Nicholas got sick of the sun and decided to go inside to relax for a bit. He and his Papa relaxed in the living room, Papa on the couch and Nicholas on the floor, watching cartoons. I loved seeing this and was in no hurry to interrupt them as they bonded and chatted. These are the times that Nicholas is going to look back on when he’s grown and remember fondly. The coffee shop trips with Grampa, the chats and plays with Papa. I hope that he has both of his grandfathers for many years to come and he learns from them all that he possibly can.
There are days that I think about Pepere and I miss him so much. I would give anything to just curl up on his lap again, or kneel down
on the floor in front of him while he sits in his chair and rest my head on his tummy while he plays with my ears. He loved to play with people’s ears. Or to chuckle at him when he had a few drinks and he used to get a bit pink in the cheeks as he would laugh. To hear him speak French to his relatives, many who have passed away also, all his brothers and sisters are now gone. I can just imagine the party that they are having in Heaven.
So if you are blessed enough to still have one or both of your grandfathers alive, cherish them, visit them, love them. They have a place in your life that can not be taken by anyone else. When they are gone, there will be no one else that will be able to fill that void. The wisdom that they have just from having lived, is unparalleled. Grandmothers have much of this same wisdom, but it is from a woman’s perspective, which is very different from a man’s, especially in that generation. Sit and listen to the stories that they have to tell from when they were children, young men, etc. They come from a generation that is quickly growing smaller, from a time when things were simpler, and life was very different. We have so much to learn from them, if we only open ourselves up to listening.