I've spent a lot of time this past week starting posts about my grandfather in my mind and stopping, rejecting each beginning as not good enough for his memory. This is one of those things that you're so desperate to get right because it's so important that everyone know about a special person that they won't have a chance to meet themselves. Each word has to fit just so, each image clear, each emotion strong and touching without being overpowering or gooey with sentiment.
I don't think I'm up to the task.
Instead, I'll sketch out the few things that come quickest to my mind when I think about my grandfather. I have a feeling I'll always look back at this post and wish I had been a better writer at the time to do his life justice. But, as I finally realized tonight, no memorial is worse than a flawed one.
My grandfather was a three-pack a day smoker for a long time until one of his lungs collapsed. The docs told him that if he wanted to keep the other one from doing the same thing, he needed to kick the habit. So he did. One thing that helped keep the cravings at bay was hard candy, specifically root beer barrels. He always had a stash handy, and he usually didn't mind sharing (though he shared more of the candy as more time passed from his last cigarette). While I liked root beer well enough, I never did catch onto the taste of the candy, and I remember thinking a couple of times that I wished Grandpa preferred Sour Warheads (very popular at the time) so I could bum some off him.
Grandpa was an engineer, and thus he approached a lot of things with cool logic and heavy use of the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" axiom. This is why I remember him typing away at a very old model computer for a loooooooong time for games, car mileage/performance, family genealogy and addresses, and most likely a ton of other things that I never witnessed or heard of during my visits and phone calls. The computer was so ancient that it had a black background with green text and was accompanied by a dot matrix printer. But he still dove into new technology when a case was made for it (email, digital photography, TiVo, etc), and he would puzzle everything out so that he could sit you down and explain to you how each new-fangled device worked.
Of course, his sense of logic wasn't without a sense of humor. When we sent along Drew's first ultrasound pictures (way back when he was simply referred to as Junior), Grandpa started a file for the pictures on the computer. The file was named "great1" because it was for the first great grandchild.
Nor was his sense of logic without a resulting sense of frustration on the recipient. When my mom and I were visiting from Germany one summer, I took a driver's ed course so I could get my license. That's a blog post in and of itself, but it's enough for this post to say that my first attempt was unsuccessful. I came back to my grandparents' house feeling the humongous sting of failure, sure I was going to get ribbed endlessly. Upon hearing the official reason the witch of a driving instructor gave for failing me (at the first stop sign, I didn't come to a complete stop at the stop line but rolled forward a bit then stopped so I could actually see oncoming traffic), Grandpa got me right back into the car and took me around to each stop sign in the neighborhood for practice and technique refinement. At the time, I think this only made me feel even more humiliated, but now I understand it as a clear sign of Grandpa's sense of logic and love.
Now that I think about it more, the entire episode connects back to the very first memory I have of my grandfather. It was during my strange patchwork year of kindergarten, when I attended three different schools in two different states due to my father undergoing officer training school and transitioning from an enlisted servicemember to an officer. It was winter, and my mother, brother, and I were living with my grandparents. My grandfather, decked out in his camel-colored winter coat and black hat, walked me to the school just down the street from their house. I don't know if he walked me every day, or if it was just the once. But the sky was that deep blue only seen on a clear, cold winter day in the Midwest. The air bit every exposed patch of my skin and then some. My breath blurred and fogged the view of the sidewalk in front of me every now and then. And my grandfather walked right next to me, holding my hand to cross the street.
Those are the clear memories of my grandfather. All the others are either hazy with time or so wrapped up in memories of my grandmother, the home they created together, my aunts and uncles and cousins, and their neighborhood that it's hard to know where his smile ends and the rest begins.
Actually, I think that's exactly the way Grandpa would have me remember him.