I have taken quite an unintentional sabbatical from writing here.  Life has been quite full in recent months in good ways and in hard ways, and I have been poured out in many other places.

Five months ago, two days shy of my 29th birthday, my grandfather passed away.  What follows is something I wrote in the days between his death and his funeral.  It was a way for me to begin processing my grief.  At the time, I did not share it with anyone, but I post it here now as a way to honor my grandfather’s memory and express my loss.  Since college, I always traveled to visit my grandparents during the winter, hoping to give them something to look forward to during these cold, dark months.  I just didn’t realize that it did the same for me.

There’s a picture of me after I graduated from kindergarten.  My parents, grandparents, and I took a trip to New Orleans, and someone snapped a picture of me from behind.  I was walking between my father and my grandfather, one hand holding on to each of them, two of the most important people in my life.  And in many ways, I still feel like that little kindergarten graduate today, but someone is missing from the picture now.

There’s an image engraved in my mind.  It was captured on videotape when I was a senior in high school and had just performed the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Nutcracker.  It was the most important dance performance I had ever given, and many of my extended family and friends were there to support me.  My cousin’s husband filmed the moments after the show had ended when all of the cast members were greeted onstage by those who had come to watch them.  He caught all of my family members and friends as they came up to congratulate me.  For some reason, I think I was caught up with a group of my friends when my grandfather got up to the stage.  I saw him and gave him a hug.  He kissed me on the forehead and told me what a good job I had done.  It seems so simple, but I have never forgotten that kiss on my forehead and the way it made me feel.  Never in my life have I wondered if my grandfather was proud of me.

My grandfather loved his family deeply.  He especially loved his girls – all of them – his wife, his daughters, and his granddaughters.  He frequently said that he didn’t have any need for boys.  Of course, he loved the boys his girls loved – they were clearly different from the others.  But the rest of them were trouble, he said.  And he knew, he would tell us, because he was a boy himself once.

It probably had something to do with The Lie.  The one that got him into the Navy, even though he was too young to fight in the war.  You know, the only one he claimed he ever told.

He was a smart man and a tender man.  He was sentimental and hilarious.  He cried at Hallmark commercials and could have a dinner table laughing so hard their sides hurt.  He was the best storyteller.

He never did come to understand why I wouldn’t douse Granny’s biscuits with her gravy, but I think he accepted it when I started putting her preserves on them instead.  He was the one who had taught her how to cook when they first got married, but she quickly soared past his skills.  And as a result, I think every meal I ever ate at their house ended with a “Boy, Mama, that was good,” as he leaned back in his chair.

A thousand memories come to mind, images so real they make me catch my breath.  His hand motions.  His facial expressions.  No man’s eyebrows ever said as much as those on his face.

It is no joke that he originally bought a computer so he could play Solitaire on it.  Any time we visited, there was always something he would request help with on his PC, usually opening some strange attachment on an email forward he had received.  He would be so grateful when we figured out the problem, then he’d save the video in some folder with a title that had nothing to do with the contents.  His electronic filing system was hopeless.  And every folder was saved to his very crowded desktop.

Of course, at his house you were never uninformed.  He watched the news all day long, then he would watch the nightly newscast on all three networks.  Watch one live and then tape the other two, even though it meant he had to have two VCRs back before DVR was around.

The paper towels.  Oh, the paper towels that man used.  He always had one in his pants pocket and one in his shirt pocket.  There was no need for a real handkerchief, if you had Bounty.  And I think he singlehandedly kept them in business.

He ate mayonnaise on his salads and Homemade Vanilla Bluebell ice cream.  No other flavor was acceptable.  He liked his ice cream “plain” and never understood why anyone wanted to mix stuff up in theirs.  He sent Valentine’s Day cards and heart-shaped boxes of chocolate to his daughters and granddaughters each year.  And he always kept his clipboard with the daily crossword puzzle by his recliner, where he could see his bird feeders outside.  He wore suspenders every day for years until he lost weight, and I always missed them afterward.  He had a full head of silky white hair that other men would envy.

I can see him so clearly sitting in his chair at the kitchen table, piddling with something that needed to be fixed or a battery that needed to be changed.  I can hear the way he would tap his hands down on the lazy susan and then cup one hand to his ear to check his hearing aid and make it whistle.

It is all of the big moments and a thousand of the small ones that are hidden in my heart.

My grandfather was many things to many people.  Navy man, co-worker, husband, father, neighbor, loyal friend.  But he was Grandaddy to me.  And there will never be anyone else like him.

I loved him deeply, and I miss him just as much.