Just over a week ago, our family shrunk from five generations to four. My grandfather passed away – he was 103 years old. He outlived all his siblings, his wife of 71 years, one of his three daughters, and two sons-in-law. He had four grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren (plus two step-great grands), and 7 great-great-grandchildren.
PopPop lived in his own home up until he was 101, and only had someone living with him full time for the last couple of those years. He was driving, accident free, until he turned 100. Losing that privilege was a real blow to a man who once drove charter buses for a living. I don’t think he ever gave up hope that someone would fix that little slip-up.
Since my father passed away when my kids were 5 and 3 years old, and my father-in-law when my youngest was still in the womb, PopPop was the only grandfather my kids remember. And for the last 10 years or more, every time an opportunity to drive the 250 miles to visit him came up (Thanksgiving, Christmas, the 4th of July, his 90th birthday, his 100th birthday, his 103rd birthday) my kids would hear, “we don’t know if he’ll be around next year.”
The grandfatherly memories I have are very different from my children’s. My brother and I would spend two weeks every summer with my grandparents, and we spent many happy hours playing with my cousin, who lived right next door; eating Good Humor ice cream bars and trying to finagle our way into my great-aunt’s swimming pool, also right next door. PopPop was still working in those days, but in the evenings we would go to the snow-cone stand for a treat. (Shaved ice, not crushed.) And there was always a trip to the now defunct Gwynn Oak Amusement Park. I never did get the hang of the bumper cars. PopPop also liked to slip my brother and I a quarter when he thought our parents weren’t looking, and one year he took me to see his birthplace on the James(?) River in Virginia.
PopPop knew how to guarantee that his family would gather on the 4th of July: “I’ll be cooking a bushel of crabs.” “We’ll be there.” Oh, the joy of spending an afternoon in the back yard wrangling meat from fresh Chesapeake Bay crabs with relatives and friends.
My grandparents had slowed down a bit by the time my kids came along, and those crabs got crazy expensive.
What my kids didn’t miss out on were the stories. PopPop was a storyteller, and he had lots of material. There was the time, during WWII, when an officer handed him a gun and told him to shoot anybody that didn’t know the password – since he didn’t have anything else to do while waiting for the workers he bused to and from the armory. There were the times he got to exercise the army horses, and the day they all were gone. There was the horse of his that wouldn’t take another step until he got his bottle of beer. There was the time, after the U.S.S. Cole bombing, when the army called him up and informed him he was being “returned” to active duty… “Um, you do realize I’m 90 years old?” Remember that officer at the armory? The army never did come through with back pay.
And then there were the stories about the Naval Academy in Annapolis. Lots of stories. PopPop started out washing buses, then driving them, and then selling trips and designing routes. For 20 years or so he was the guy who organized all the buses to transport the entire academy to and from army/navy football games; some 80 buses that made a 3 mile long line and had to arrive on time and in the right order. This put him on a first name basis with admirals and big city mayors – like Richard Daley of Chicago. Not bad for a guy with a 3rd grade education. When the academy was shut down after the Cole attack, he drove down to see how things were (some 20 years after he retired). The guard at the gate was told to “let George go wherever he wants.”
The stories lately had gotten a bit mixed up, but they were still in there and he still loved to tell them. I am so blessed to have had him around for as long as we did. Here’s to adding more stories of my own.