Everyone should enjoy their Grandparents and the wealth of knowledge held within.
I wrote that first sentence in July of 2011. It has been in my drafts ever since. Looked at, contemplated and left to ripen…possibly change direction all together.
My grandfather passed away on December 1, 1981 and it had such a devastating effect on the 15 year old me.
We were inseparable. Growing up, there was nothing I enjoyed more than being around my Grandpa Lord. He was amazing. He was funny, smart, corny, talented and unaware. By unaware, I mean at the talent he possessed. He was an amazing photographer and he never went anywhere without a camera, still or 8mm. He captured some amazing things in his everyday life.
When visiting places, he hated to have people in his shots. He wanted the memory of the place, not the people around it. Unfortunately that meant my grandmother as well. Out of several hundred slides I digitized, only one had her in it. Of course, this also meant he wasn’t in any of them either, which is quite sad.
I would always play down in the basement, but there was always this dark room I was never allowed to go in. Neither by myself nor with him. So I never asked about it. It wasn’t until his death that I even thought about it again, and it was his darkroom. He processed all of his film, or at least a lot of it.
As I grew up, my love of film and photography grew as well. I always felt cheated by his death, but when I found my passion in images, I felt it all the more. When I realized that the knowledge that he had would never be shared with anyone, tore me apart. I felt that I had lost, not only my best friend and my amazing grandfather, but also a walking encyclopedia of what he had experienced in life. I would have loved to have recorded him.
In 2001, I was fortunate to happen to be around when my aunt was visiting and she had an audiocassette of my grandfather singing a birthday song for my grandmother, as well as a couple other gems. She found this cassette after my grandmother died on April 5, 1994, and happened to have come across it prior to visiting. That was my Christmas present to all of my relatives that year, as I made several CDs and mailed them out.
Thanksgiving of 1981 was spent in a tiny little restaurant that happened to be open. We had heard that grandpa might not be doing as well as we had thought, after suffering a heart attack. His second, and a rather large one. He had been told time and again to not over exert himself, which my grandfather had no concept of. He was told over and over not to work with his hands above his head, but he had been building a garage in their back yard. He always wanted a garage and upon retirement, set out to build it. It was always my feeling that building this played a huge role in his death. Upon its completion, he suffered the massive attack.
I had never really been in hospitals before and I have dreaded them ever since. The man that was in that bed was not my grandfather. This was not the man who always smiled, always laughed and always worked. This was a frail and fragile body who was coherent and did not like people to see him this way. I was told several times by him that it was ok not to come back. But I couldn’t stay away.
He made a rather startling recovery just a couple days later. We were all smiles and laughter. Our patriarch would be coming home. My grandfather would be ok. He would be in the hospital a while longer, but recovery was assured. He would be home for Christmas.
However, if you remember the beginning of this post, this was not to be the case. He suffered one of the most massive heart attacks the doctor had ever seen. He was never to be coming home.
The funeral brought all the family together. Cousins and aunts we hadn’t seen in a while. Family that was so utterly important. My grandmother was asked if an open casket was desired. She said yes, not knowing what that entailed. I suppose it is different for each service, but this one, after all of the tears had finally subsided and the pastor was done speaking, they closed the casket in front of us. That is the single most haunting thing I have ever witnessed and an image that will be with me until the day I die.
My grandmother remarried about four years later, a ceremony I missed because I had spent so much money on prom that I could not just throw it away (though it’s exactly what I did). Upon her death in 94, I was told by my cousin that all of grandpa’s cameras were in in a box waiting for me. I rushed to get them and have kept them secure all these years.
We never got to enjoy photography together, or his retirement. I never got to travel with my grandparents the way my older cousins and my brother got to. I was next to go, but it was far less about where we would have gone, and so much about the two weeks that would have been spent with my grandfather and grandmother.
A few years ago, my cousin was down from Minnesota. We went and visited the graves and on the way back she told me how envious she was that I was around them all the time, where she saw them maybe twice a year, usually only once. I reminded her that, although I did see them often, that also meant I was subject to all of the bad times as well. If they were in the hospital, we were there. When grandpa was connected to nothing but machines, weighing the least he’d ever weighed, I was there to see that. When grandma was lying in her hospital bed, gasping and incoherent…except for one moment of light while I was in the room and she said it was OK and she was ready…I left the room and sent Lloyd back. Within about two minutes, CODE BLUE was ringing out through the halls, doctors and nurses came running from every doorway, and we knew. We knew without question it was grandma. Then here came Lloyd, fragile, weeping and tired. I have so many good memories. So many humorous memories. But even through that, the images of a loved one dying stick in your memory so vividly.
I am visited every few years, around this time, by my grandfather. A very vivid dream, all exactly the same. He is sitting on the end of my bed, smiling, wearing his pale green shirt and dark green pants, telling me that everything will be just fine and that he’s ok. It’s been a while. I really need him to pop back in and tell me that again.
As loving and kind as he was, I am not sure he would have ever understood what is happening with me. But then again, he might. Our bond would have only grown stronger over the years. My amazingly brilliant, and equally quirky daughter would have been a part of this as well. The fact that she is now following her photography studies shows this is inherent within us. Photography was something, I learned, that he always wanted to do professionally. But you don’t leave a good job at Coca-Cola to do something like take pictures. I wish he would have. I believe he would have soared.