Tuesday, March 6, 2012

(The other) Grandpa

My paternal grandfather, Pete, died on March 6, 1985, at the Towner County Memorial Hospital, in an early-morning Code Blue rush that sealed a lifetime of chronic heart problems.   He was 71. 

Our grandparents lived in the same small North Dakota farming town we did;  they were lifelong Cando icons, known to all and any as the newspaper family and 2 of the town's most robust boosters.  Grandpa was head of the Chamber of Commerce and even the mayor for a time, a golf club fixture, a Lutheran church figure. 

Grandma, Grandpa, Dad, Aunt Diane

I was 12 then ... and still now remember many crystal moments. Being woken before school by our parents, told we needed to stay home and wait for the pastor to come over. Sitting on the edge of the bed, crying, next to my sisters. Spending many hours at Grandma's across town, the first time seeing my dad cry, stream of friends passing in and out through the front hallway. Going to school the next day, finding Mrs. Lybeck and my 6th-grade classmates had constructed a Karin-sized card decorated with colored flowers and ivy, "We share your sympathy"... Grandma&;mistakenly giving a pair of my mother's eyeglasses to the funeral director, later discovering them on Grandpa's face during the wake and matter-of-factly plucking them off right then and there. First experience with small-town "mourning" casseroles that filled our fridge. My first funeral ever, my thinking I must wear black but not owning any (in a kinder, gentler pre-teen era) and being frustrated at having to wear a perky grey dress with cherry-shaped buttons. 

There's very little else I remember about Grandpa today. Only with hindsight can I see how little I knew of him, how surface my knowledge. The shadow of impending health crisis.  His inexplicable loyalty to the Atlanta Braves, his drinking beer straight from the can and fanning card tricks, his intense conversational gesticulating that I inherited while not remembering any substance of what he was conversationalizing about. This likewise inexplicable powder-blue suit and tie.

The family (adding Aunt Kathi) in 1984.
Grandma Blanche would die in 1993 from cancer.  On the other side of the family, Grandpa Roy died in 2000 and Grandma Martha (whom y'all have met) is now 92.  I got to be an adult around all three of them, even if nominally, and got to view them with an adult-nuanced perspective.  It's one of my great regrets to not be able to think of things he said and know if I'd argue or agree.  I knew only later that his even keel tempered Grandma's often-hot emotions, his death leaving a blank and dangerous void between her and my mother in the years that followed, that my dad struggled to navigate.

He was a man of integrity and loyalty and dedication to home, work and family.  I regret, too, that because he's been gone for 27 years I often don't remember to thank his memory except for this sad anniversary.

Thanks, Pete.


Kristin M. said...

Thank you Karin...very well said and right on point. I share many of your same feelings about Grandpa Pete....

Anonymous said...

@Karin. Great that you knew your grandparents so well. I did not, unfortunately.