You couldn't help but have a very deeply personal relationship with my grandfather,
Carl. It was the only kind he knew how to have. He wouldn't allow you to have
any other kind of relationship with him than one that was honest, aggressive, and
completely unique to only the two of you. Sometimes it wasn't easy, and everyone’s
relationship with him was different, so I can’t say how he was with everybody. But I
can tell you about my relationship with him.
I spent a week with Grandpa, just the two of us at his place, one summer when I was
about nine or ten years old. We watched Shark Week and ate frozen pizza every
night; we would probably still be eating frozen pizza if no one had come and picked
me up. But one of those days, we went out fishing together on his boat. Everyone
knows that boating and fishing were his biggest passions, and I know he loved to
share his passions with everyone – especially his grandkids. We were out on this
lake for probably only about four hours, but to me it felt like an eternity. We didn't
catch anything, so of course, that made it feel even longer. Looking back, I feel badly,
because the solitude and the quiet is probably what he liked most about it, and he
just wanted to share that with me. And here I was being a bored little brat.
Anyway, after a while we decided to call it a day, and he got into the truck and told
me to stay in the boat while he towed it up the ramp. As he pulled away, the boat
came loose and slid straight back into the lake with me in it. Now it’s getting dark,
and I’m in the boat by myself and I’ve never driven a boat before and I’m terrified,
screaming to him that I don’t know what to do. But he told me to calm down, relax,
and do exactly as he said. I nervously started the boat, steered and drove it right up
the trailer way too fast, but he hitched it up – correctly this time – and we headed
I’ve spent a lot of time on boats since then. My friends and I used to go
wakeboarding three times a week in high school, and I went a lot in college too.
Every time I get behind the wheel, my mind takes me back to that lake. I can feel the
controls of grandpa’s tiny fishing boat, I can smell the woods of Missouri and I can
see the color of the sky that was out that day. Every time I’m in a boat, I think of that
day I was stuck on the lake with him.
I always wondered how he had forgotten to tie the boat down correctly after he had
been doing it his whole life. Now, I wonder if he didn’t do it on purpose. It made an
impression on me, and maybe in the end, that was all he wanted to do. If he sent
me out into the lake on my own, to figure out how to drive a boat by myself so it
would stick with me forever, it worked. And that sounds exactly like something that
Grandpa would have done.
The last time I saw him, he made it out to our wedding two years ago. He hadn’t
been feeling great and we weren’t sure if he would be able to come, so it was great
that he did. A lot of people still think of him as the star of that wedding because
he was having such a great time, talking peoples’ ears off. We had to rescue my
friends from him a few times, but that was ok because they were enjoying it, and
anyway that’s just who he was. But the person he connected with most was Nikol’s
grandmother. We were so happy that they had a connection, and kept saying how
great it was that they had hit it off. For three days they laughed together and just
kept talking and talking and talking. The funny thing is, though, Nikol’s grandmother
doesn't speak a word of English. And Grandpa never spoke a word of Spanish. The
whole weekend, they never understood a single word the other person was saying,
but they couldn't have been closer. That was a wonderful way to remember him.
You couldn't help but have a deep relationship because he wouldn't let it be any
Growing up, one of the big jokes around our house was that he would always forget
our birthdays. He would forget to send birthday cards, or send them several weeks
late. It never bothered me, but I hated how it bothered my dad. Personally, I didn't
have a problem with it, and the reason is that when you were with him, when you
spent time with him one-on-one and really looked into his eyes, you could tell
how much you meant to him. You could tell how much he cared. You had his full
attention; you had 100-percent of him at all times. That meant more to me than a
well-timed birthday card.
The last time we spoke was a few weeks ago, when I called him on Christmas. I knew
he hadn’t been feeling well, and he had trouble holding a conversation sometimes. I
wasn't sure how the call would go, because he might drift off or change the subject
or ramble on forever or be a little moody. I was nervous about that, because I
was going to tell him that he would be a great-grandad. But he was perfect. I told
him we were going to have a baby, and he couldn't have been more excited. “Oh, I
think that’s just wonderful!” he said. It made me extremely happy to know that he
understood, and that he showed me such love. He ended the call with his signature
sign-off, the one that I’ve noticed my dad has started to adopt over the last few
years. “Bye-bye for now,” he said.
You always knew where you stood with Grandpa Carl, and I appreciated that about
him. He let you know how he felt, and he was at his best with face-to-face contact.
With family, that meant that he showed an incredible amount of love and he made
it clear that nothing was more important to him than spending time with you and
making the most of the moment. Spending time with him, you learned all that you
could have needed from him. That stuck with me, and I’ll always remember it. And
I’ll miss him.
Bye-bye for now.