Right now, my family is coping as best we can with the loss of my Grandpa Howie. Thank you to the many, many people who have contacted us to express sorrow at his passing. I can’t sleep, so I thought I would write a bit about the man I had to say goodbye to so suddenly this week.
As a toddler, I struggled to say “Grandpa.” Luckily for me, Grandpa’s first name came easily to me. One of my favorite family stories describes me wandering up and down the long hallway in my grandparent’s house, looking for him and calling, “Howie? Hoooooowwwweeee?” In my little kid’s squeaky voice until I found him. Thus he was, to me, forever named Grandpa Howie. I passed this down to my brother when he was old enough, and it’s never changed. Sometimes, people would ask me how my Grandpa Wynn was, and I wouldn’t clue in right away that they were asking about Howie, because Grandpa Howie was the only way I ever knew him.
Grandpa was married for 58 years this January to Jessie, my tiny firecracker of a grandmother. There is a sappy purple card out on the living room cabinet in their house that he gave her for their most recent anniversary. He signed it with all his love and x’s and o’s. I’ve read it several times in the last couple of days, and every time I see it, my eyes sting. As long as I knew him, he never forgot her birthday, or their anniversary, or to buy her a valentine. I don’t think he bought those cards or picked out those gifts because he felt obligated. He meant every word. All those goopy love cards expressed what he really felt for her, just in more eloquent ways and in clearer script.
Grandpa told me years ago that he kept a separate account for some of his own expenses so that he could surprise Grandma with gifts for Christmas and birthdays and other occasions. For their 50th wedding anniversary, he picked out a diamond anniversary band and floored her when he presented it to her at our family dinner, complete with a short, sweet speech. He often told me that when they were married way back when, he had so little money that he had to cash in a bond to buy her wedding band; all those years later, he was really excited to add a little more sparkle to her ring finger. For the big community hall party to celebrate that same anniversary, he had a big medal custom-made, and made another speech, stating that he had medals from his service in the Canadian Navy, but that Grandma also deserved a medal for all the years she’d been with him. He was always doing sweet, funny things like that.
For many years, there was a hole-in-one trophy on top of the china cabinet in the living room. I think it was from some golf tournament that Grandpa Howie played in. He golfed at least three games a week for most of his retirement. As a little kid, I saw that trophy, and figured that since a hole-in-one was the best outcome for a golf swing, Grandpa had to be the best golfer in the world. To me, it was like the guy had won an Olympic medal. I have a clear memory, somewhere around the second grade, of stating to another child on the playground, “Oh yeah? Well, my grandpa only has to hit the golf ball once. He even has a trophy to prove it!”
Like Grandpa, I’ve always been prone to terrible hiccups that haunt me off and on for a few days at a time. When I was a little kid, he would get down the crystal sugar bowl when either of us had the hiccups, and we would both hold a teaspoon or so of sugar on our tongues. I’m not sure about the efficacy of this cure, but I think we both appreciated an excuse to have a bit of extra sugar out of a pretty bowl.
My grandpa wasn’t wholly mine, but was shared between six grandchildren. He loved us deeply, and was proud of us: both for the things we’ve accomplished and the people we are. The funny thing about it is that although I shared Grandpa Howie with my brother and my cousins, which would technically allot me 17% of the grandchild love and attention pie, somehow he always made it feel like I got the whole pie to myself instead of just the slice to which I was entitled. He had so much love to give that I never felt as though I were sharing him at all.
Grandpa Howie had that sort of loaves and fishes touch with his love and attention: no matter how many people he needed to care for, there was always plenty.
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