My grandfather was a tremendously neat guy.
He was many many things. Growing up, he was of course Dad’s dad. He was a surgeon - both in the Army during World War II and in civilian life before and after in Rochester, NY. He had tremendous compassion for his patients. I remember talking with him about some of the people he had treated, and the care in his voice about the man who was mentally ill and had hurt himself was so clear even the young child I was then could hear it.
My father and my uncle each went into the medical profession - and that compassion is seen in each of them as well. Dad’s sympathy for a small child whose teeth had been hit by a baseball or who had to have some other unpleasant dental work done is familiar when I think about Grandpa Dave.
He was a wonderfully bright man with a broad range of interests. His house always had such interesting books around - anything from science to the archeology of the Middle East. Several times he took classes at the Atheneum at the Rochester Institute of Technology in all kinds of subjects.
And like him, my uncle and my father each have a broad range of interests - in fact we all do. My father is a silversmith and a photographer. My uncle has a penchant for tinkering with clocks. They both are interested in computers. My cousins have each spent time in China - we’ve all taken Chinese somewhere along the line. My cousin David has been a translator, and is formally studying sculpture. Matt, my other cousin, has taught English and worked for a district attorney’s office. I juggle, study religions (informally), and program computers for a living. We seem to come by our eclectic natures honestly.
He was a shameless flirt - any waitress would be flattered and joked with, pretty girls noticed, women he noticed made to feel pretty. And he was always sincere - he could see wonder and beauty all around him and he enjoyed bringing it to anyone he spoke with.
At his 85th birthday party a few years ago, we took a picture:
From left to right: My Uncle Dave, my cousin Dave, my father (Chris also), me, Grandpa Dave, and my cousin Matt. At his party, he greeted every one of the probably 20 or so guests by name, and talked a bit about each one. Despite a near-fatal car accident previously, he was still pretty sharp.
My father has talked a lot about going skiing with his dad. And I remember going skiing with my grandfather too - I was pretty young (I don’t actually remember how old I was). We’d gone to Hunt Hollow - a small private ski club that he belonged to, and that my parents had belonged to when we lived in Rochester. One of the chairlifts had a brightly painted chair with puffy leather seats and we timed our runs to try to wind up on that chair on the way up. As we’d ski, I could hear him singing “Tea … for two … and two … for tea …” - it was the rhythm he had for his turns, and though he wasn’t skiing all that fast, his skis were close together going back and forth with the song. And every once in a while he’d joke about giving a ski lesson, saying “Bend zee knees, ten dollars please!”
When we were going home, I got my finger caught in the latch for the car door. I must have been screaming my head off - but all I remember is getting some snow packed on my hand and him being worried about me.
Before I left Troy for California, Uncle Dave and Gramp drove down from Rochester so Gramp could visit the places he grew up, and visit his parents’ grave in the Albany Rural Cemetary. I wound up driving Uncle Dave’s car around as we visited the house he grew up in in Rensselaer, and the house he and his father worked on, and we got lost looking for the cemetary itself making a right when we should have made a left. It was such a joy listening to him talk about growing up in this area that I was going to school in. I got to hear about parts of his life I never knew about. And I got to spend a very touching period of time with him.
Overnight, I’ve become a generation older - and all at once everything is both the same and different. It’s natural to wish that you’d spent more time with someone after it’s too late to do so. The world is now both a smaller place for his having left it, and a bigger place for his having been in it.
When I close my eyes, I see a small, slightly stooped man wearing comfortable wallaby shoes, grey slacks, a white shirt, a windbreaker, and a bolo-style tie - the part that goes around his neck has silver tips, and the clasp is a polished turquoise stone. He’s got a very gentle, caring smile that he shares with everyone, and a great sense of humor.
And if I am half the person in my life that he was in his, I will count myself fortunate, and thankful to have known his example.
My grandfather died this past Saturday (12 January 2002) and I will miss him terribly.