Wednesday, December 8, 2010

My Early Memories of Gumpy

Memories can be fickle.   They can be vivid one day and fleeting the next.  They can cause great sorrow and happiness without rhyme or reason.  

For me, looking through photos gets me headed down a sentimental path.  Going to certain places, eating certain foods and talking with family can trigger other memories.  Memories are full of fact and imagination since our minds do not like gaps in stories.  Ema reminds me of this on occasion because she remembers the childhood of her children in a very different way than they do.

I have been struggling with some of my memories lately.  Nothing bad per se, just the fact that I have few vivid memories of Gumpy from my early childhood.  The amount and varied hours he worked have something to do with this lack.  The big factor, the one I have been reconciling lately is the fact that my Dad was an active influence for me until I was 13 years old.

My dad was a pretty good father until the lure of pot, cocaine and alcohol proved to be irresistible.  There were endless games of "Monkey in the Middle" in our hallway, countless hours of playing catch and practicing baseball fundamentals.  We would listening to Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey announce Tiger baseball, interspersed with his memories of listening to Chicago Cubs games as a kid.  We use to have boxing matches in the living room until I learned how to knock the wind out of him.  I had a happy childhood filled with great memories.

Those memories have been causing a bit of pain lately.  It has been over 12 years since I last spoke with my dad and I had given up on him being anything but a junkie long before then.  When my dad could not be a father, my grandfather stepped in.  While he could never be my dad, Gumpy allowed me to grieve the loss of my father while giving me a steadying presence.  It was his influence that allowed me to escape my teenage years with minimal scarring.

The pain of my memories comes from wishing I had experienced those things with my grandfather instead because my grandfather remained steadfast in his love for me and our family.  It has been a year and a half since Gumpy passed away and the void left in my heart is sometimes paralyzing.  It is up to me now to provide that steadying presence.    

I do have great memories of Gumpy from my early childhood.  I was pretty young when he taught me how to test an electric fence without getting poked.  I do remember hearing WITL 100 blaring on the tractor radio when he would be pulling into the barn.  I was always pretty excited when I got to go back to the woods and help him get another load of wood to keep the fireplace warm.  There was a trip to Mackinaw with my grandparents that I am sure was more fun for me and my sister.  The irrational kid in me is begging for stronger memories right now, and I am left unable to satisfy that demand.

The strongest memories, though, are from when I was 13 years old until Gumpy passed away.  It was then I learned how to treat other people.  It was then when I learned about work ethic.  It is when I learned what it meant to love and want the best for each member of your family.

Memories are little more than movies of our lives that we continue to edit and view again through out our life.  The script has last minute changes.  Characters make appearances, some longer than others.  You are always learning different ways to tell the stories.  While some of my movie might leave something to be desired in terms of storytelling, I made myself an attentive apprentice to Gumpy.  I hope he approves of my production skills.  

Saturday, December 4, 2010

How to Win at Golf

By the time I was in college, my golfing routine with Gumpy had changed.  I went to the farm once a week during the summer, so I only had the chance to work on my golf game once a week.  Gumpy, however, practiced almost everyday.  While I had the strength and size advantage, he countered with superior knowledge of the course and cunning.

That cunning manifested itself in the form of big chores for me.

One morning, Gumpy decided that the tree on the edge of Shaytown Road on the old fence row next to the chicken coop needed to be chopped down.  It wasn't much of a tree and it was too close to the field for Gumpy's comfort.  We quickly got to work with his old Stihl chainsaw.  The tree came down pretty easily and the branches were trimmed off quickly, so we decided to head to the golf course.  Gumpy won pretty easily because my arms were shaking so much I couldn't properly grip the club.  

Having not learned my lesson, a the next summer we decided to break up the concrete floor in one of the barns before our golf game.  He wanted a new cement slab to park his truck on while my grandparents wintered in Florida, and to accomplish this, the old floor needed to go.  Woodchucks and raccoons had compromised the old floor by tunneling underneath it, so breaking the old floor apart sounded like a pretty easy job.  All it required was a jackhammer.  

By this time in Gumpy's life, he wasn't much good for heavy lifting.  In his words, he was too heavy for light work and too light for heavy work.  So I hoisted the rented electric jackhammer into the back of the truck and we drove back to the farm.  

The actual breaking of the concrete floor didn't take as long as either of us had estimated.  Once I figured out a rhythm, the jackhammer worked slicker than the hair on a schoolmarms leg.  A project we both figured would take at least four hours was done in one hour.  It opened up plenty of time for a quick nine holes of cow pasture pool.

Feeling pretty strong, I was confident I could take the old boy, so I agreed to go to Mulberry Fore in Nashville, MI with him.  It was our secondary course.  We both loved Centenial Acres in Sunfield but we decided on Mulberry Fore to avoid the golf leagues.  Playing on the new nine at Mulberry, our first hole was a nice 350 yarder.  Nice and straight with open grass on the left and a tree line on the right.  Gumpy stepped up and stroked his trademark straight-as-a-string 180 yard tee shot.

I confidently approached my tee shot.  I knew if I killed it, I would be able to drive close enough for a nice chip shot onto the green and a shot at a birdie.  I wound up and took a hefty swing.  When the club hit the ball, I yelped in pain and almost lost my grip of the club.  My forearms were so tight and sore from controlling the jackhammer that I could barely stand the pain.  Needless to say, my approach to the game was much different that day!

I think I beat Gumpy in golf once or twice in my life.  We played a lot of golf together but he always seemed to be a little sharper in the short game than me, or a little more prepared than me.  But most of the time he won because he was just a little too clever for me.  

Thursday, November 25, 2010

I Still Give Thanks With Gumpy

My last Thanksgiving with Gumpy was terrible, yet I would not trade the time with him for anything.  The chemotherapy and radiation treatments left his body in a weakened condition, which caused his hemoglobin levels to drop to dangerously low levels a few times.  The first time this happened, the treatment was so aggressive to bring him back that it induced congestive heart failure, leaving him restricted on the amount of fluid he could take in for the rest of his life.

The pain caused by bodily functions now compromised was excruciating, leaving him in tears on several occasions.  I sat in the one bathroom at the farmhouse with him for several hours that Thanksgiving, trying to help him get through the torment of his failing body.  

Remembering that day is unfortunately easy, but I embrace happier memories of Thanksgiving with the old boy.

As a kid, I loved going to the farm for Thanksgiving.  We lived on the back 40 acres, so we would hop in the car and ride the half mile up to the house.  Sure, we could have walked up there as we did all summer but Thanksgiving was always at the tail end of firearm deer season, so walking on our own property was occasionally dangerous.

We would leave as soon as the Thanksgiving Parade shows on Channel 6 and Channel 10 went off the air.  Mom would have Rebekah and I bundled in sweaters to keep us warm.  I would bounce into the farmhouse because it was always so warm and smelled so tasty.  To keep my appetite at bay, Ema would have orange and grapefruit slices out, which I always used to enhance my smile.  Gumpy would be in the basement, tending to the Florida room so I would wander down to see if I could help stack firewood or tend the fire.

Mom and Aunt Moose would be busy trying to help Ema get the dining room and food in order.  For most of the year, the dining room in the small house was used as an all-purpose room.  Ema used it as more of an office, with her desk in one corner of the room and paperwork stacked on top of the dining room table.  Gumpy used it as a changing room.  You would find his wallet and pocket change on the table with his dirty jeans draped over one of the chairs.  Family meals were usually eaten at the kitchen table, with the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas.

By the time everything was ready, at least two members of the King family would have arrived to share the meal with us.  As we gathered around the table, Gumpy would start the family grace,

"For these and all other blessings, the Lord make us truly thankful.  Amen."

Dinner would end and we would leave for Grandma and Grandpa Lingholm's for our second Thanksgiving dinner.  Afterward, we would return to the farm for desert which was always a pumpkin pie with whipped topping and the occasional apple grunt.  In most families, a grunt would be referred to as an apple cobbler.  However, Gumpy called it a grunt because you wanted to grunt when you pushed yourself away from the table after eating so much of it.

There was little remarkable about the day itself, other than the opportunity to spend a day with family, which was why Gumpy always seemed to enjoy the day so much.  As with many traditions, life got in the way.  It started with Ema and Gumpy retiring and spending much of the winter in Florida.  Mom moved us to Traverse City after she divorced her first husband and that tore away a bit of the tradition too.  Now I've remarried and I've spent the past few Thanksgivings in Tampa with Gladys' family.

What remains of our tradition are the memories of enjoyable times with family and the basis for a new tradition of my own, an evening to reflect on how much I love Gumpy.  Happy Thanksgiving old boy!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Cancer, I'm Through With You

Cancer, I've had quite enough of your brazen attitude toward my family.  You're going down!

You tried, and failed, to take my little sister and my Aunt.  You robbed me of my best buddy, Gumpy.  You robbed my wife of her father, before I ever had the chance to meet Hilton.  I'm pissed at you for that too because I know Hilton was the type of man I respect and enjoy being around, based on just how much his daughters love him.

I have had enough.  To fight back, I'm growing a mustache.

It's all a part of the Movember movement.  Hundreds of thousands of men around the world are going from cleanly shaved to well mustached this November to raise money to fight you Cancer.  Through research and supporting the families you are trying to take apart, I'm quite sure your days are numbered.

To my friends and family, join me here in supporting this effort.  Donate or grow a mustache.  It does not matter how you get involved, just get involved.  Prostate cancer might not be what took our loved ones, but Cancer is still Cancer and any win against it is a win for us all.  

My mustache is for our community, but it is in honor of Gumpy.  The only time I saw him without a mustache was in pictures.  It ranged from full handlebar, with "goose grease" (his term for mustache wax) to a nice clean upper lip sweater.  Maybe it's time for me to carry on the tradition.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Handing me the car keys

I'm not exactly sure when it started, but I drove almost every time Gumpy and I went somewhere together after I started college. There was little begging on my part, usually he just tossed me the keys on the way out the door.

What made this remarkable was how much he loved driving himself.  Few people could ever drive the right way.  He was very particular about how someone should drive, so much so that he would not let my mom drive his truck without appropriate lessons.  Even after administering the lessons, he still wouldn't relinquish the keys to his truck to her.

I know his penchant for perfect driving started when he asked his dad for permission to drive the family car for the first time.  A few years earlier his brother had borrowed the family car and had a wreck that totaled the two week old vehicle.  So Gumpy's dad let him borrow the car with the understanding that it would be returned dent and scratch free.

Even in his colorful late teens and early twenties, the car was always returned without a scratch.  He only had two speeding tickets on his driving record, which he received in Bellevue, MI.  After the second one, he told the officer that he would no longer be spending any money in Bellevue.  It was a promise he kept until he stopped driving.

He never accelerated hard, always gave plenty of room between him and the car in front of him and would only slam on the breaks to avoid an accident.  He did not accelerate up to a stop sign, he would see the sign and take his foot off the gas, allowing the car to coast until it was time to stop.  When the car was up to cruising speed, he did his best to keep the flivver at that speed consistently.  Even when he was pulling a 5th wheel trailer, riding with him was drama free.

I must have picked up some of that because he rarely complained about my driving.  He would comment if I was accelerating a bit too fast for his liking and he hated when I would drive my customary five miles per hour over the speed limit.  Even with his occasional complaints, he always rode shotgun.  I still miss having him as my passenger.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Go Phillies!

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with baseball.  Countless hours were spent pretending I could field second base or swing the bat like Sweet Lou Whitaker.  Baseball games were only televised on Saturday afternoons and I would comb through the TV Guide magazine to figure out of my beloved Detroit Tigers would be on television.  Most kids my age watched the Smurfs while I watched This Week In Baseball.

Gumpy and I shared a love of baseball.  We both appreciated the acuity needed to hit a baseball just as much as the atmosphere at a major-league ballpark.  Summers would be spent talking baseball, watching baseball and listening to baseball.  Tiger baseball was preferred but not required.

Last year, my sister won a fantasy baseball contest.  The rules required her to pick from a list of players who would have the best month for each month of the baseball season.  Our 30 minute conversation on who she should pick netted us an all-expenses paid trip to the World Series in Philadelphia, a baseball autographed by "The Line" Al Kaline, memories that will last a lifetime and a deep wish Gumpy had lived long enough for me to dissect the trip with.

Being inside the stadium for the World Series was incredible.  The architect who designed Detroit's Comerica Park also designed Philly's Citizens Bank Park, so the sight lines were incredible.  Game four was cold but neither Rebekah or I cared, we were at the freakin' World Series.  We were on the edge of our seats until Brad Lidge came in the game, which is when Philly fan became convinced that they would loose.  Johnny Damon stealing second and third in the top of the ninth for the Yankees took the wind out of our sails.  It was then I remembered that I hate the Yankees and found that I was quickly becoming a big Phillies fan.

Since Gumpy had passed away five months before this trip, I can only imagine what we would have talked about.  I know the Alex Rodriguez go-ahead double in the ninth after a his slow hitting start to the World Series would have been a topic of discussion.  We would have dissected Charlie Manuel's decisions throughout the game and the Phillies having C.C. Sabathia on the ropes, then being unable to deliver the knockout punch.  He would have talked about what it was like to be in St. Louis for the 1968 World Series with my Uncle Jim, watching the Tigers take on the Cardinals.

Walking in and out of Citizens Bank Park that night, I paused to think about Gumpy.  All I could do is smile because I know how much he would have enjoyed living vicariously through Rebekah and I that night.  And I would have happily spent all night talking baseball with the Old Boy.

Go Phillies!


Friday, October 1, 2010

My Sleepless Night

Gumpy was always a sound sleeper.  This is not to say that he was not vocal, he would carry on entire conversations in his sleep.  It was fascinating to know he would talk half the night and not remember any of it in the morning.

Then cancer attacked his body.  The chemotherapy and radiation treatments left his body so frail that a slight bump would cause an enormous bruise.  His balance was almost gone and we were all afraid that he would break a hip trying to get to the restroom in the middle of the night.  We tried hiring home aids that would assist him in the middle of the night but he was usually sneaky enough to bypass them.

One night he decided to climb over Ema to avoid the aid, which I believe was the beginning of the end for the home aid idea.  Ema began devising her own systems for monitoring him.  When he'd let her, she would keep a hand on his night shirt or keep her hand on him until he got too hot.  All of this meant that she did not get much sleep.

That July 4th holiday, I decided to go up to the farm for a few days and try to give Ema some relief.  It was decided that I would bunk with Gumpy and Ema would try sleeping on the couch.  This way, he wouldn't confuse me for a home aid and wouldn't try to avoid me while giving Ema a few hours of uninterrupted sleep.  After a lot of coaching from Ema, she felt I was ready for the job.

I couldn't sleep.  I was nervous that I would miss something, so I couldn't get relaxed.  Every time he'd flinch, I would be wide awake.  Then he started chatting.  Mostly incoherent but certainly amusing to him.  We did get up a few times that night and he told me how naughty I was for not letting him go to the restroom by himself.  At least that was amusing, he was use to my help getting in and out of the restroom during the day.  In fact, we would chat while he was there.

By the time Gumpy woke up for the day, I was ready for bed.  I had managed to give Ema a bit of a break and Gumpy didn't fall or hurt himself that night.  I was exhausted physically and mentally.  As Ema made him breakfast, I fell on the couch and slept for several hours.

Those were the times I found myself understanding what being married should be about.  Ema went through the same routine with him every night with no nap in the morning.  She stubbornly would not allow for much help with him because she wanted to make sure everything was done right for my grandfather.  No matter how tired or frustrated, she kept soldiering on.  She loved him enough to sacrifice herself to help him without an expectation of return.

I thought about this when I couldn't sleep tonight because my other Grandma, Grandma Lingholm (Winnie) just passed away.  At her funeral yesterday, I couldn't help but think that my aunt Anita and cousin Susan sacrificed in the same way to make sure Grandma's last days were full of love.  I am thankful for many things, but today I can't stop thinking about how thankful I am to have so many examples of sacrificing for your family.  I have the right teachers in my life and I will continue to learn all I can.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Losing Grandma Lingholm

Today, my heart goes out to my cousin Susan and my Aunt Anita.  For the past few years, they have been the primary caretakers for my Grandma Lingholm.  Grandma had broken her hip two years ago, sending her on a downward spiral that eventually caused her to lose her memory, her independence and today, her life.

I hope they were able to say what was on their hearts to Grandma.  I hope the rest of the family was able to as well.   Regardless of condition, I believe a part of everyone is still listening as they pass on.  Various circumstances in life have left me on the outside looking in, yet I am thankful that Grandma was not alone, that she was loved and cared for.

A phone call from my mom and a quick check of Facebook confirmed Grandma's passing.  While we have not been close, I still felt a flood of sadness roll over me.  It is further proof that none of us are invincible.  My childhood is fading into a more distant memory.  Another member of the greatest generation is gone.  Another grandparent passes before meeting the family my wife and I are trying to create.

Grandma enjoyed life, from the casinos to her kids and grandkids.  She was quick to laugh and slow to anger.  She ended stories with the phrase, "And like that."

May you rest in peace Winnie.  May you rest in peace.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Taking Care of the Homeless

Tonight I witnessed an incredible presentation by Mark Horvath, creator of  What made his presentation incredible was the passion he spoke with about the plight of the homeless in American and our misguided efforts to help.  Homeless himself, he is putting a face on being homeless.

During the Q & A portion of the meeting, he said we need to go back to a Depression Era mindset when it comes to dealing with our neighbors.

Gumpy grew up right in the middle of the Depression.  He personally didn't talk much about it and the stories he told barely scratched the surface of the struggles his family faced.  The only story he really ever told about how hard it was for his parents was about the time he wanted a red bike.  He was flipping through a Sears and Roebuck catalogue and saw a nice red bike.  He asked his dad, my Great Grandfather Frank, if he could have it.  Frank sat down on the floor next to him, said he wished he could and cried right along with Gumpy.  It was the only time he remembered ever seeing his father cry.

Frank worked hard to provide for his family, putting in several years before and after the Depression working for the Hillsdale County Road Commission.  My Great Grandmother was an excellent cook.  In those days, the highest complement someone could make to a housewife was that she could make a good meal out of nothing.  Verna (who I remember best as GG) could make a great meal out of nothing!  They did not struggle because they lacked initiative.  They struggled because they agreed to take care of the children of so many neighbors and family members.

In those days, there were no homeless shelters, at least not in Waldron.  You could always find a sympathetic family member to help.  If a family had to move or could just not afford to feed everyone anymore, the community would take care of them.

These were lessons Gumpy took to heart.  Neither of my grandparents ever bragged about the things they did to help various family members, but they delayed trips, drove old cars and sacrificed opportunities to make sure their extended family was taken care of.  Nieces, nephews, cousins, close family friends, the exact relation wasn't always important.  What was important was they had food in their stomachs, clothes on their backs and a roof over their head.

Fidelity to family is one of the most important keys to a happy life Gumpy gave me.

I thank Mark for giving me another reason to think of Gumpy today and for challenging our community to do better in taking care of all of our brothers and sisters.  He launched a new website too, one that focuses on getting homeless folks the information they need to use social media as a tool for getting help.  This might sound counter-intuitive until you start watching InvisiblePeople.  Then it makes more sense.

Please, please, please help me get these resources in the hands of libraries, soup kitchens and homeless shelters.  They all see many people in need everyday and this might just be the hand up they need to break the cycle of homelessness.

It's a one stop source for teaching people how to get an email address, sign up for accounts on Twitter and Facebook and techniques for using those to find help.  The tools might be different from the ones used during the Depression but one thing stays the same, we need to be our brothers (and sisters) keeper.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Someone Who Believed In Me

I really miss Gumpy.  Life sometimes throat punches me, and he was always great at helping me pick myself up off the mat.  While my family and friends love me, their words of comfort are different.  I appreciate them, I welcome them, I need them but they are not from Gumpy.  It is not that their efforts are good or bad, its just that it isn't Gumpy saying it.

He really had a gift for saying the right thing to comfort me at the right time.  He could always separate me from my actions, letting me know that I was valuable as a person even if he hated what I had just done.  I know my grandfather always loved me and would do whatever he could to protect me.  

I lost my compass the day he died.  I have figured out how to handle the day to day without him, now its the big things that trip me up.  Gumpy isn't here to tell me I will be fine.  He isn't here to tell me a bad joke to take my mind off my problems.  He isn't here to tell me that he loves me and that he knows I am a strong enough man to make it through.  I know that for myself now, I didn't for a long time.  It's his voice I miss now.

He use to be a phone call or a drive away.  Now I rely on my memories and hope he's still proud of me. 

(By the way, everything will be fine.  Today not being able to talk with him really stung.)  

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Quick Exit from the Car

Ema had been staying with Mom the past week after Mom's successful surgery to clear up a bone spur in her toe.  Her recovery has gone more smoothly than planned, so I am sure Ema felt like her visit was a waste of time in some respects.  Her patient was too healthy to help much!

One advantage to having Ema downstairs for a week was hearing some of the stories again.  Each time Ema starts with a story, I learn something new about her childhood or about Gumpy.  Last night, she filled me in on a few details about the time Gumpy walked out of Leonard Lester Peck's car.

Gumpy and Leonard were on their way home from something.  While Gumpy wasn't a drunk, this was during a time he enjoyed a few barley pops with his evening activities, so while Leonard was driving, my grandfather fell fast asleep in the passenger seat.  In the middle of a dream, he thought he heard his mother calling, so he opened the door and started to walk out to see what she wanted.  

You read that correctly, he opened the car door and proceeded to try walking to his mother's voice.  Mind you, Leonard was driving down a country road at about 50 miles per hour at the time.  How Gumpy didn't die that evening is a mystery.  Leonard slammed on the breaks, turned around and found Gumpy dazed and confused on the side of the road.

I was aware that he felt pretty beat up for a few days.  His right shoulder was never the same and a chunk of his scalp never grew back properly, which is part of the reason he loved his comb-over haircut so much.  It covered a big red scar.  

What I didn't know was that he had trouble lifting his right arm above his shoulder after everything had healed.  The doctor said that he could help fix his arm, but that it might require a costly surgery.  In those days, private insurance was non-existent.  While my great-grandfather had a decent job with Hillsdale County, his income helped support his family, a few nephew's whose parents couldn't afford to care for them and a few neighbor kids whose folks were in the same boat.  Raising all of these kids was my great-grandmother's full time job.  Gumpy knew his parents could not afford his surgery.

So he did the next best thing.  He went out to the clothesline, grabbed it with both hands and kicked his feet out from under him.  I guess you could hear him screaming in pain across Waldron but he regained full motion in his shoulder.

That's how my grandfather was, resourceful and never at a loss for an idea.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Cleaning the Well House

When Ema was a kid, the farm did not have an electric pump to pull the water out of the well.  Instead, water was drawn from the well using a windmill.  Soon after electricity came to their part of Eaton County, the actual windmill was torn down and the well house was converted to a storage shed.  While the building itself was not large, it was full.    

Gumpy kept his tools, electrical cords, garden hoses, garden tools, chainsaw, chainsaw parts, nails, screws, oil, caulk, hedge trimmer and a feed shovel in the well house.  After digging through to the back one day, we found luggage chests, old Coca-Cola bottles, framed pictures, an incubator from the 1950's and a few assorted weights from my Uncle Jim's workout set.  

Organization of the well house was a subject often discussed without implementation.  For a few years in college, I would begin helping Gumpy empty out the well house.  The task always began with carrying of his equipment out and him deciding he needed to keep it all.  We would then begin to take things out that he felt were Ema's.  This would be working for a few minutes until she caught wind of what we were doing.  Rather than part with anything, she insisted that it all could be sold in a yard sale so we needed to keep it.  Minor bickering would ensue and I would restock the well house with the same items I had just removed.

This seemed to always be part of a pattern that they both enjoyed and frustrated me to no end.  Things changed a little bit the year Gumpy was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  I was allowed to remove the chests and store them in another barn that was better protected from the elements.  That was it.  Understandably, he wanted things left in place so he could feel a bit of normalcy during the chaos his life was becoming.

It seemed odd last week when I went to the farm and the well house was organized.  Someone from church helped Ema get it tidied up.  It seemed to be more spacious than I remember.  It was a welcomed change, a needed change.  I just hope they had as much fun dragging everything out as I use to.        

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Afternoon Naps

Gumpy loved naps.  He seemed to always have time for a bit of shut-eye every day, which I think was a habit formed while he was a boomer on the railroad.  Long shifts without breaks at remote locations have a funny way of forcing you to sleep at odd hours.

His favorite place to take a nap was on a gold couch that had adjustable sides rather than arms.  Picture a long beach lounge chair and you're pretty close to what still sits at the farm.  He called it his workbench because he said it was always where he did his best work.

There are two family traits passed down from several generations of Carpenters, the ability to fall asleep on command (which seems to have skipped me) and a mischievous streak.  On the first trip to Lake Michigan that I remember well, the entire family shared a house in Ludington, MI.  It was one of the trips I remember my Uncle Jim taking with us before he moved to California.

The mischievous streak did not skip Jim.  Stories of his deeds abound in family conversations about my Mom's childhood.  Like the time they were camping and Jim decided to build a bonfire in a heatwave.  Or the night he woke up and mistook Ema's wig for a raccoon, which he beat to death.  But that is a blog best left to Mary and Mom to write.

One thing Jim taught me on that trip was that Gumpy was a sound sleeper.  As Gumpy laid down on the couch for his afternoon nap with his shirt off, Jim taught me how to knot Gumpy's chest hair.  This might seem unremarkable, except we knotted a lot of chest hair.  Enough that when the old boy sat up from his nap, he let out a mighty yell as hairs started ripping out of his skin.  

Even in retirement, naps were a daily occurrence.  He woke up early everyday, in sickness and in health because his body was programmed to do so after years of working the farm and at least one full-time job.  The naps were typically not long, just enough to be recharged for our next round of cow pasture pool or the next task on the farm.

I don't share his ability to fall asleep anywhere at anytime, which should explain to you why I blog in the wee hours of the morning.  I do share his appreciation for a good, refreshing nap.  I hope you do too. 

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Habits I've Picked Up

A friend of mine wrote a great book a few years ago commemorating his dad who passed away suddenly from a heart attach.  Eric's book "I Miss My Dad'" helped me enjoy the last few years I had with Gumpy.  He has done a great job of engaging people on Facebook too, often asking questions that get me to remembering the good old days with Gumpy.

Eric's comment tonight was especially thought provoking because it reminded me just how many of my little habits are things I learned by mimicking my Grandfather.  All it took was this call to action:
Share with us a little saying that you carry on from your Dad or loved one... 
Gumpy always had a way of clapping his hands that I picked up.  I usually do it when I am walking into Ema's house to announce that I am home.  He liked to say, "A little faster if you can stand it," when he said it.

Every night after work, he took his shoes off under the kitchen table.  Every night when Ema was getting dinner ready, she would move his shoes to the bedroom.  Every morning, he would struggle to find his shoes and often comment that someone must have stolen his shoes because he could not find them.  I don't do that with shoes, I do that with keys.  I put my keys in the same place every night.  When Gladys starts cleaning, she puts them in the bucket by the door.  I then start wandering around our loft looking for my keys.

Whistling was something Gumpy did unconsciously while working around the farm.  It was a nonsensical tune but I find myself compelled to try it when I am working around the farm.  I still throttle down the riding lawn mower before shutting it off, just like he did.

Gumpy loved his ankle socks.  I never remember him wearing tube socks.  It was either ankle socks or dress socks if he was going out.  When I decide to wear them, I have his taste in socks.

Eric's book is worth a read and his Facebook page is worth a follow.  Thanks for inspiring this blog post!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Gladys and I are puppy-sitting for a friend.  Mr. Man's pretty little, only eight weeks old at the most.  He's so little that he still thinks we are giant dogs with funny barks.  Now that he is a little more comfortable with us, I am hoping he will sleep better.

Until then, I find myself awake with a squirming puppy trying to calm him down so Gladys can get some sleep.  Our loft is surprisingly quiet.  I hear the motor of the ceiling fan above me grind out each rotation.  Every time the roof creeks, it seems to echo through our house.  Each drip from our faucet can be heard from 20 feet away.  The streetlight shines pretty brightly into our space.  The occasional car drives by our building and every so often, you can hear a vehicle speed past as they rush to the nearby hospital.  Detroit, in it's own odd way, reminds me of the farm.

Our house was on the back 40 acres of the farm, which tended to be loud during the summer with the crickets and frogs in the pond near the house keeping watch all night.  At Ema and Gumpy's, the light between the house and the barns illuminated every room.  Occasionally a high school kid in his souped up Chevelle would race by the house but more often it was the steady drone of someone else on their way to work in Lansing.  The farmhouse, built in the late 1800's, had it's own set of creaks and groans that kept absolute silence away.

Detroit seems to have this pull on me that I do not always understand.  The obvious flaws are painfully evident and people seem to love to bury the beauty that can be found here.  Despite occasional misgivings and fleeting thoughts of leaving, I have found my level here.  I have found a community where I can raise my family and keep my loved ones nearby.  Even though Detroit is my home, I am always from Vermontville.  It will always be my hometown, the place I couldn't leave fast enough and now work my tail off to try recreating.

In some ways, I think that is how Gumpy felt.  When he met my grandmother, they were living in a rural farming community in southern Michigan called Waldron.  The village had its own song that he liked to sing.  He kept up with his friends in town and liked to visit the often.   He use to make his kids roll down the windows or get out of the car when they crossed the county line so they could take a nice, deep breath of clean Hillsdale County air.  Life wasn't always easy in Waldron, but his outlook on his hometown was always positive.  

Gumpy had a lot of pride in where he was from, but lived most of his life on the farm Ema was raised on in Vermontville.  He found his level there.  A place to raise a family, a place to keep the ones he loved close by.  A community where he could make an impact and a church he could believe in.

I think I share a lot of things with Gumpy.  I have pride in where I am from, even though I seem to know fewer people each time I am in town.  Life was not always easy in Vermontville, but my outlook on my hometown has changed.  I don't know if I could ever live there again, I have become citified.  Yet, I admire the work ethic and the neighborliness of Vermontville.  When Gladys and I do have kids, I hope they appreciate the smell of fresh Eaton County air!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Remembering Ema and Gumpy's 50th Anniversary

Today would have been my grandparent's sixtieth wedding anniversary.  I know they had their good times and their struggles.  What was remarkable to me was their fidelity to each other right up to the end of Gumpy's life.

In some ways, the last decade has flown by yet I remember the weekend we spent as a family as plain as day.  The family met at the farm early that Saturday to enjoy time with each other.  I saw many extended family members that day, all of them I wish I could speak with more often.  My Aunt Charlotte had pulled together a quilt with squares decorated by many of us and Ema still proudly displays the photo we all took with the quilt.

That evening, we held a reception at the Vermontville Opera House.  It was that evening I realized just how much I look like my Uncle Jim, because I was stopped at least a dozen times by people calling me Jimmy.  One of the highlights of the evening was meeting one of Ema's bridesmaids that she had not seen in decades.

After several hours of meeting new people, reconnecting with long-lost friends and playing a little baseball with a few of the kids; we all retired to the farm because my grandparents were treating the immediate family to a trip to Mackinaw.

The three days we spent up north were not without incident, but we all muddled through.  In fact, we had a blast.  We spent time at the Tahquamenon Falls, truly one of the most beautiful places in Michigan.  A cedar tree lined river gives the river almost a rust colored tint, yet the water is pure.

A few of the family members made the trek from the lower falls to the upper falls by way of a dirt trail.  Thinking that we could do it faster, my ex and I decided to do the walk back.  Little did we know that the one place in the Upper Peninsula it would rain was going to be right over us.  Foggy glasses and soaked clothes made for an interesting trip back.

Mackinaw Island lost power the day we arrived, yet you do not need electricity to enjoy the island.  We had fun anyway.  Both nights, my room turned into the "adult beverage" room, where my uncle Dave and I made sure the cooler was full.  Between him and my cousin Frank, we made sure beer was plentiful, card games were lively and everyone could enjoy our time together.

Most importantly, I learned just how important family was to my grandparents.  I learned that my grandfather would literally fight if he needed to if it meant keeping his family together.  That ideal really sank in for me and it plays into my decision making daily.  This is the weekend that I discovered how much loyalty and family mean to me too.  Disagreements, misunderstandings and hurt feelings are a part of being a family, and we all need to get over it.

I miss Gumpy and I wish he could be here to enjoy this day but I know he's watching.  I know he would be happy that Ema got out of the house today because he would understand just how sad she would be.  While he loved all of us, he was always most concerned about his little Chickadee.  I assure you buddy, we all still love her and we are all doing as much as she will let us to help!  Happy Anniversary!  

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Our Shared Wedding Ring

Many things in daily life remind me of Gumpy.  Conversations with friends remind me of him.  Lying awake in our loft, hearing stillness reminds me of the farm and how quiet things were when the crickets went to sleep.  Gatherings with our neighbors remind me of him too.
If I really want a reminder of him, I just look at the wedding band I wear.  It was not the ring I had expected, yet it is still a symbol of my love for my wife and the respect I have for my grandfather.  The ring I thought I was getting was a nice Black Hills gold ring he purchased in South Dakota on our trip back from Idaho several years ago. 
The summer my dad left, my grandparents decided to take my sister and I on a trip to visit our Uncle Jim and his family.  We were gone for almost a full month, with stops at Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse memorial.  Everyone, including me, endured my generally bad attitude.  We all enjoyed a very memorable trip.
After visiting the memorials, we stopped in a little town to pan for gold (I found three flecks).  Gumpy loved Black Hills gold.  After panning, we stopped in a little jewelry store where he found the perfect pinky ring.  It was a beautiful ring, but the jeweler had a little trouble getting it sized properly while we waited, so we agreed to return the next day before heading back on the road for home.  
When we picked it up in the morning, I begged to try the ring on.  Mind you, I was 13 years old at the time and I was trying on a ring that Gumpy had sized to fit his right ring finger.  It didn’t fit well on my ring finger, but it fit snuggly on my pinky.  A little to snuggly in fact.
I said something to my sister when I was having trouble getting it off.  When my finger started to turn a little blue, Ema overheard us struggling to get the ring off.  Gumpy offered his usual option of amputation, which was usually amusing at any time EXCEPT when I couldn’t get the ring off my finger!  Using cold water and soap, the ring eventually came off.
When the ordeal was over, he told me he would will the ring to me.
Unfortunately, he lost the ring in the yard at the farm.  I was a little bummed when I found out because it would have been a great reminder of him and of that trip to Idaho. 
So, I decided to ask for Gumpy’s wedding ring.  When I told Ema I would like his ring, I was not sure what she would say.  Gladys and I slipped down to Toledo to get married six short weeks after Gumpy passed away.  I was afraid I was asking for too much too soon.  
When she gave me the ring, I was beaming.  It needed to be sized, his fingers shrank a bit with age and mine grew bigger.  But it was his ring.  It was his symbol to the world that he loved my grandmother.  The only time it ever left his finger was when he was in the hospital and then only under protest.  He took his commitment to Ema seriously.
Sometimes, I look at my left ring finger with the conflicting emotions of love and loss.  I love Gladys and I am glad I found the right mate.  I am excited that such an intelligent, loving woman chooses to spend her life with me.  I loved Gumpy and I am glad he was my grandfather.  I am excited that such a warm, genuine, caring man chose to spend the end of his life looking out for me.    I am humbled to have this one symbol that reminds me daily of their loving kindness.  I pray I live into the promise of this ring.      

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Decision Making

Gumpy was always pretty clear who made the decisions in his household and he gave me some great advice when I was preparing to get married.  He sat me down and said,

"When your Grandmother and I decided to get married, we agreed that I would make all of the big decisions and she would handle all the small ones.  You know, we've been married for over 50 years and there hasn't been a big decision yet!"
Ema didn't find this nearly as funny as I did, but in reality, they always shared the big decision making.  While it seemed that they bickered all the time, when a decision was made, you could not divide them.  I hope I remember their example when we have kids.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Poem for the Faithful

While my views differed with Gumpy on religion, it was always on the interpretation of modern religion.  He was a devout Methodist who let his deeds speak for him while I am now a Unitarian Universalist with a Humanist bent.  I still believe in God and I know my Grandfather is having a cup of coffee in heaven with God as I type.

This poem came from a former co-worker whose grandfather passed away yesterday.  My thoughts and prayers are with her because I know there will always be a part of her heart that wishes her grandfather didn't have to die.

God Saw You Getting Tired

God saw you getting tired
and a cure was not to be
so he put his arms around you
and whispered,
“Come to Me”
With tearful eyes we watched you
and saw you pass away
and although we love you dearly
we could not make you stay.
A Golden heart stopped beating
hard working hands at rest.
God broke our hearts to prove to us
he only takes the best

Monday, July 5, 2010

My Grandfather's Music

One area of life Gumpy and I never saw eye-to-eye on was music.  If you look at my I-Pod, you will find a wide variety of music.  I love Urge Overkill, good trance, smooth jazz and I've learned to stomach some 80's music.  I could never get my mind around the bluegrass and country Gumpy loved.

When Gumpy was out in the field, he had a small radio attached to the fender of his Massey Ferguson tractor.  It was always tuned to WITL, Lansing's only country music station.  I watched countless episodes of Hee-Haw because my grandfather loved the show.  It is where I learned such ditties as,

Gloom, dispair and agony on me,
Deep dark depression, excessive misery.
If it weren't for bad luck,
I'd have no luck at all.
Gloom dispair and agony on me!  

Since I've been thinking about him a lot lately, I thought you might enjoy a few of his favorite tunes.  I know I am starting too myself.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Zen of Lawn Mowing

Gumpy loved mowing the lawn.  It was almost an obsession.  Things needed to be just so over the two acres he mowed during the summer.  The length of grass was different depending on the season.  Spring grass was usually cut at the highest setting because the yard was full of weeds that had been cut for decades, so it grew too quickly for a short trim.  Late fall trimming always meant Gumpy would cut the grass as short as possible, almost scalping the yard.  In theory, this allowed the leaves to blow freely off the property, making leaf raking unnecessary.

I never really understood this obsession.  As a kid, it was fun to mow because it was almost like driving.  I mowed faithfully in college because Gumpy asked me to do it, not because I liked it.  Truthfully, I hate mowing the law.  I guess that makes my lawn mowing epiphany last week just a little ironic.

Since Gumpy became ill, Ema has relied on various friends and family members to do this vital chore.  Most recently, a gentleman from church had been doing the mowing.  What his work lacks in perfection is more than made up for by his dedication to fulfill his obligation to my grandparents.  Unfortunately, a heart condition has knocked him out of commission for a few weeks.  So I decided I might as well mow again.

The day I picked to mow was fairly rainy.  Conditions were less than ideal, but the job needed to be done so as soon as the clouds broke, I hopped on the John Deere riding mower (Gumpy called it the Cadillac of mowers).  The wet grass was just too heavy for me to mow at my regular breakneck pace, so I had plenty of time to think.  When I reached the stand of pines on the east side of the yard, I finally realized why my grandfather enjoyed mowing.

It was HIS time alone.  It was his time to think without interruption or distraction.  It was his time to reflect on what God had given him and what he would do with those gifts.

He was always busy; working for the railroad, farming the family farm, being an active Union member and his favorite duty of all, being a loving father.  He was devoted to his family, often making the two hour drive to his hometown of Waldron after work to pick up his mother so she could spend time with her grand kids and great-grand kids.  When he retired, he stayed active playing golf and helping me learn how to act as a man.  The Vermontville United Methodist Church and the Maple Valley Memorial Scholarship Foundation were always close to the top of his mind as well.

When I reflect on just how busy he kept himself, it made perfect sense that he needed a few hours each week to himself.  He regularly got that time sitting atop his riding mower.

Mind you, he never told me this explicitly.  The answer just felt right when I was mowing and as I continue to reflect on it.  After being his Best Buddy, Number One Farm Hand, Vice President and General Manager of Outside Affairs Eastern Division; I like to think I have a little extra insight into his thinking.

This epiphany points to something I constantly struggle with.  It is easy for me to just keep working instead of take a little time to consider my actions.  Maybe I need to mow Ema's lawn a little more often.

Monday, May 10, 2010

An Open Letter to Gumpy

Dear Gumpy,

It's been almost a year since you passed away.  Life is so much different without you.  Of all the things I miss, it's being able to pick up the phone and hear you tell me you are proud of me I miss the most.  You always seemed to know when I needed to hear you say that.  There have been so many days lately that I've wished I could just call and hear you on the other end of the line.  I get through by reminding myself that I have big shoes to fill for our family now that you're gone, and you would want me to stop crying in my beer.  You would probably tell me to stop acting like a suckling if you saw my tears as I'm writing this.

Yesterday was Mothers Day.  I think you would have been thrilled by the day.  Ema loved the new place that Gladys and I are living in now.  She liked it so much she started joking with us about making a place for her to stay.  While she thinks I am just being polite by saying this, I hope you know that she will always be welcome in my home.  Gladys is very supportive of this too.  All Ema needs to do is ask.  I know you wanted me to live at the farm to take care of her, but I hope you understand that my heart is in Detroit.  So even if she doesn't stay with us much, I will always watch out for your Chickadee.

As a family, we have tried to make sure she wasn't alone during the big holidays.  Gladys and I were in Tampa for Thanksgiving, so she had dinner with us at Gladys' mothers house.  Mary made sure Ema was home for Christmas.  Jim and Char visited her right around your birthday.  Mom and Rebekah took her on a cruise.  She really did not have too much time to sit and mope.

You wanted me to make sure my Mom and Rebekah are taken care of too.  Just so you know, I try but there is no taking care of Rebekah.  She takes care of herself and will tell you how you can help.  So I do when she lets me.  On the flip side, Mom has enjoyed our new apartment.  She's been over almost every weekend for something, usually with Haithem.  It reminds me a lot of Sunday nights at the farm, watching 60 Minutes, playing cards and eating popcorn.  Mom even calls when she gets home, the same way Mary would call when she made it back to Lansing.

By the way, I wish you were healthier when you met Haithem  He's kind, patient, an excellent carpenter and very intelligent.  Just who Mom deserves.

I'm not sure if you heard, but Gladys and I did get married.  She's the right girl for me.  I knew it when I met her and I think you knew it when you met her too.  August 7 will be our first anniversary and I couldn't be happier.  Hell, we went to a Toledo Mud Hens game the night we got married!  If that doesn't speak to how well she fits in, I don't know what would!  Ema gave me your wedding band.  I was honored that she let me have it because it gives me a symbol of your marriage and the sacrifices you both made to stay together for 58 years.

Of those promises I made to you, I work all the time to try taking care of the ladies in the family with varying degrees of success.  I'm sure you understand.  You left me with a hard-headed lot.  The keeping the rest of the family together is a little tougher.  It has been great to get the occasional message from Frank Walter.  The rest of us keep up by phone calls, Facebook (I know, you still don't get it) and from this journal I'm keeping of memories I have of you.  We all needed time to grieve and figure out how to live without you Old Boy.

That has been the toughest part.  We all knew you would not be here forever.  There is just no good way to prepare.  I keep trying to keep you alive in my heart by acting a little more like you.  I walk into the kitchen in the farm and declare, "A little faster if you can stand it," just like you did.  I'll cross my arms and pat my forearm the way you would in the middle of a conversation.  I love our family enough to do things that hurt me greatly to try keeping them safe, just like you did for me.  I'm still working on the patience and tact you practiced with me.  Someday I'll be good at it too.

We will make it.  Sometimes that doesn't seem as obvious as other, but I know we will be alright.  You left each of us with great memories and a fine example to live up to.  You left us all well prepared.  I love you, miss you and happy for you that you were finally able to make it home, where you deserve to be.




Saturday, May 8, 2010

Gaining a Friend in Heaven

Tuesday, Gumpy gained a friend in heaven.  Ernie Harwell passed away after a nine month battle with cancer of the bile duct.  He was a true gentleman by all accounts; a man who was generous with his time, enjoyed life, worked tirelessly and had a wife who admired him until the end.  Kind of like Gumpy.  While they never met, I am confident they would have been fast friends.

I didn't have a portable radio as a kid, so I couldn't sneak a listen to Ernie and his broadcast partner Paul Carey very often.  In the early 80's, I was a bigger fan of George Kell and Al Kaline doing the occasional Saturday television broadcast of Tigers Baseball because it was an event that my dad and I would watch together.  Ernie's book, Tuned To Baseball was my first real introduction to the man.  My Aunt Mary gave me an autographed copy in 1985.  I don't think I slept much until I finished reading it for the first time.  I have been a big fan ever since.

It shouldn't come as a shock that I cried a little when I found out Ernie had died.  I cried a little when I found out he had cancer too.  Some of the tears were for the recognition that another piece of my childhood is gone forever.  Most of my tears were because just how much Ernie reminded me of Gumpy.  In a small way, I lost Gumpy all over again.

Both men were humble.  I don't recall hearing either of them talking about how much they had accomplished, instead they let other people do the talking for them.  They just did the accomplishing.  Both men were great at making people feel like they were the most important person in the room.  Neither of them were prone to critising people, although they both faced plenty of situations where normal humans would have felt justified criticising the Hell out of someone.

Both men enjoyed life.  You could hear Ernie's smile on the radio.  Gumpy's laugh was never far away. They adored their wives, their families and the people they cherished.  They loved the game of baseball and had plenty of stories to share.  They took the time to mentor the men who worked with them.  They were men of great faith, hopeful that they had done enough to please their maker.  

For them, I think their great faith was well placed.  I'm hoping they get a chance to finally meet over a cup of coffee at some dinner in Heaven so they can chat a little Tigers baseball.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Words of Wisdom

Saturday, Ema was lamenting the fact that she really had not left our family with any words of wisdom.  Her mother had a plethora of little sayings that she repeats to herself, like, "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right."  As we were talking about it, she mentioned that she thought Gumpy did not leave us with any words of wisdom either.

To me, our conversation was ironic.  I have learned so much from the actions of my grandparents that the words really did not matter.  Neither of them were braggers.  They just did the right thing.  I credit Ema with my love of reading and my fascination with our family history among other things.  This blog is dedicated to remembering many of the things that Gumpy taught me.  Yes there were words in our communication, and the non-verbal parts of their communication spoke to the integrity of my grandparents lessons.

We talked about how Gumpy treated everyone like they were the most interesting person in the room.  From the mechanic up town to the President of the Union, he genuinely was interested what they had to say.  I remember walking the course at Warwick Hills in Grand Blanc for the Buick Open when someone stopped him to talk about the Grand Trunk Railroad.  They hadn't seen each other in at least 20 years.  Gumpy stood right there and chatted with him for a good five minutes.  At the end of the conversation, the gentleman said, "Ed, it was great to see you again!" (Ed was his nickname when he worked for Grand Trunk.)

I asked if he even remembered the guy.  Gumpy said he did, barely.  The man clearly recognized Gumpy and it made the man feel better that a friend from so long ago was kind to him.  It just took five minutes and he made the man smile brightly.  With all of the time we spent together, I learned so much from observing those little moments.

Gumpy had a sincere affection and appreciation for people.  He taught me how to do this by doing it himself.  It is no longer a skill to be learned for me, it is something that is a sincere belief for me too.  Perhaps that is Gumpy's greatest legacy with me.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Gumpy Misses the Syrup Festival

Last weekend marked the first Vermontville Maple Syrup Festival since Gumpy passed away last May.  He looked forward to the festival every year during their retirement, as did the rest of the family because it was the first time each year we all came together as a family.  After a long winter away from home, he would meet us at the Vermontville fire station, where the Maple Valley Schools band boosters were serving pancake breakfast.  Being able to treat the family to breakfast always brought a smile to his face.

He rarely missed the festival.  In fact, the one time I remember him missing was the first time I had to come to grips with Gumpy's mortality.

The Vermontville Maple Syrup Festival is always on the last full weekend of April.  I was finishing my last paper for my last class of my last year at Oakland University.  Graduation was a few weeks away and I was really itching to get my stuff out of the dorm room and be done with college.  I enjoyed the experience but I naively could not wait to get my life started.  The day before my final paper was due, I got the call that Gumpy was in the hospital.

That year, Gumpy decided he wanted to golf with a few friends from Nashville, MI on his way home from Floriday.  Ema left him in North Carolina for a few days of cow pasture pool on her way back to Vermontville.  During his first day on the lynx, he felt a little tightness in his chest but thought little of it. The second day, the pain was impossible to ignore.  He refused to go to a hospital near the town they were in, he wanted to come home.  So Dave Mace packed up the car and drove the eight or so hours back to Vermontville.

This pain did not go away, despite every one's best efforts.  Ema decided he needed to get to the hospital quickly, so she called the ambulance.  One quirk with a volunteer fire and  EMS department is that it can take seemingly forever for them to arrive.  Everyone has to drop whatever they are doing, drive into town, suit up and get the rig going.  Since it was taking so long, Ema decided to grab a few lawn chairs and my grandparents sat waiting for the amublance at the end of their driveway.

Gumpy coded at least three times that Thursday night in Sparrow Hospital.  He was immediately put on the schedule for a quadruple bypass for the following Monday.  In the meantime, he was pretty heavily medicated and watched to make sure his heart could make it until he made it to surgery.

Since it was Syrup Festival weekend, we were all planning on making it to the fire barn Saturday morning for breakfast per family tradition.  In addition to breakfast, Ema usually volunteered to help with the chicken dinners at the Methodist church.  The house was generally full with visitors too, so there were always demands at the house.  Mary and I went to visit the old boy that afternoon, giving Ema a break and giving us some peace of mind.

That weekend marked the first time I had been truly concerned about how I would live without Gumpy.  He was so active and vibrant that it never occurred to me to be concerned, even after his procedure a few years earlier to clear out an arterial blockage.  I remember that weekend in 1998 as the first time I cried at the thought of losing my best buddy.    

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sunday Evenings

Tradition allows for a sense of normalcy in a chaotic world.  After a more chaotic week than usual, I was longing for a little tradition.  Stresses of work, moving and financial pressures made me long for the reassuring words of my grandfather that now come in memory only.  This past week I found myself at the brink of tears missing Gumpy.  During dinner with my Mom and Gladys, I realized just how much I missed Sunday evenings at the farm too.

It was the one day each week our entire family and close friends came together.  Mom, Rebekah and I would hike the half mile from our house up Shaytown Road to the farm during decent weather.  Aunt Mary would usually come home then too.  Our neighbor Jane (affectionately renamed Aunt Jane) would walk across the street.  Sometimes the Swartz's would stop by, as would several other family friends.  My Uncle Jim would occasionally call from California.  The tiny farmhouse always seemed full.  

At some point, Ema would begin making popcorn.  Ironically, popcorn is one of my least favorite foods, but I managed to eat quite a bit each Sunday.  A game of euchre would break out on the kitchen table while Gumpy kept turning the volume up on the TV because he was having trouble hearing 60 Minutes.  Political discussions occasionally ensued.  So did entire conversations based on bad puns.  Gumpy would retire to the Florida Room during the winter and I would try to sneak into the grown-up conversation down there.  The evening would end with hugs, laughter and phone calls from Mary to announce she made it safely back to Lansing.

Those evenings slowly faded after Gumpy, and then Ema retired.  Their annual trips to Florida muted the fun of Sunday evenings during the winter.  We soldiered on, marching over to Aunt Jane's to play cards for a few years but the buzz of a full farm house was gone.  Mary married a long time friend, we moved to Traverse City and Aunt Jane passed away.  By the time I was 16, our Sunday evening tradition was gone.  

Sunday evening’s Gumpy beamed.  He loved having his family close, hoping that physical proximity would help keep us all emotionally connected.  He loved having the house that was a hub of healthy activity.  My grandfather always seemed supremely happy each week.

I realized over dinner tonight that I finally have a home where that tradition can be resurrected.  Sure, our family is spread even further apart now.  Gumpy is no longer with us either.  A loft has a different feeling than a farmhouse too.  However, I know that my grandfather would be proud that I would even want to try resurrecting that tradition.  Anything that would keep our family healthy, happy and together.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The New Family Room

Gladys and I recently moved into a new loft in the New Center neighborhood of Detroit.  While she had to work on moving day, I decided to surprise her by having a few friends over to help complete a few big projects.  Mom helped clean the kitchen and arrange a few things in our bedroom area.  My friends Andy and Angela helped put together the Ikea furniture we procured to wall off a bedroom.  Todd helped jumpstart our final painting project.  In three hours, we accomplished enough to completely wow my bride!  Gumpy would have been proud of my feat, especially when you consider the plot he masterminded for Ema's family room.

Before Ema and Gumpy left for Florida the winter after his initial cancer diagnosis, he decided that the family room in the farmhouse needed a makeover.  There was the couch that Ema hated but refused to truly part with.  Sure, she tried giving it away to various family members over the years but none of us wanted the hideous red beast.  It was uncomfortable and odd sized.  The table lamps did not really fit the rest of the decor and the rest of the furniture was dated.  He recognized that she would never willingly change the look of the room, so he decided to do something about it.

Gumpy could be quite secretive when he wanted to be, and he proved it over the few months they were in the Sunshine State.  He laid out a budget for my mom and my aunt to stick with.  He had a few specific instructions on colors and furniture that had to go.  Since Ema bird-dogged him all winter, getting a chance to speak with him alone was difficult, yet they persevered.  He approved of his daughter's work and was ready to see his new family room.

The weekend before Ema and Gumpy flew home, mom and Mary sprang into motion.  There was the well-orchestrated trip to Ikea.  There was a family in a neighboring town that needed a couch for their growing family that could not afford to buy new, so family friends came to remove the beast.  Brice and Eileen stuck around to help prepare the new room.  While I was turning on the water and re-heating the house, Gladys was busy cleaning the rest of the house.  My Uncle Dave was diligently assembling our purchases.  Within a few hours, the room was transformed and the rest of the house was ready for my grandparents.

Mom and Mary drove my grandparents’ home from the airport a few days later.  I will let them describe the look on their mother's face when she saw her new room.  I can only imagine the look of satisfaction Gumpy had because I think it is similar my look when Gladys saw our furniture assembled.  He was thrilled that his daughters had so thoroughly carried out his wishes and achieved glorious results.  If you wanted to cheer him up on a tough day, you could just mention how he pulled off his surprise for an instant warm smile.

Gumpy would joke that when he married Ema, they had come to an equitable agreement on how to handle decisions.  He would take care of all the big decisions and his Chickadee (one of his favorite names for Ema) would take care of all the small decisions.  After over 50 years of marriage, there were still no big decisions.  Except one.  His decision to make sure his Chickadee was cared for and loved.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Political Rhetoric

I was a little disturbed yesterday when listening to the Craig Fahle Show on WDET in Detroit.  He was discussing the violent rhetoric that runs rampant from both the left and the right of America's political divide.  Everyone who was interviewed or who called in was more interested in getting in their zinger than they were in engaging in substantive talk about the issue at hand.  The entire debate reminded me very clearly of a conversation I had with Gumpy when I was young.

When President Reagan was elected for his first term, I was seven years old.  All I really remember of that election was how upset Gumpy was at the outcome, yet is was my first memory of politics.  Gumpy was open about his politics with me, even at that young age.  Dinner at Ema and Gumpy's was always accompanied with the Sony Trinitron TV blasting the CBS Nightly News, followed by the McNeil/Lehrer Newshour on PBS.  I would end up with many questions and receive many answers from Gumpy.  He was certainly passionate about his politics!

One day, Gumpy was completely exasperated by something he read in the Lansing State Journal.  It was probably something to do with the PATCO (Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization) strike because it was Reagan's shot across the bow to unions that he intended erode the gains unions had fought hard to win.  This was always a sore subject given the amount of work Gumpy did within the union to help his fellow members.  I had commented to him that I wished the President would just hurry up and die.

Gumpy stopped everything, turned to me and exclaimed, "Never speak that way about anybody, especially the President!  I might not agree with him but you NEVER wish death on anybody!"

It was the first and one of the few times, I remember Gumpy ever scolding me.  He was always a praise first type of person.  For him to address me like that was completely out of character and was absolutely sobering for me.  He really had a lot of respect for the office of the President, even when he did not agree with the person in office.  I watched him over the years always criticize an action a politician rather than criticize the person.

From then on, Gumpy and I would focus on the political issues.  Informed debate was the order of the day when politics was the subject.  There were several times we did not agree, President Clinton and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was one of those times.  Our national security was one of those topics where we rarely found common ground.  Yet the debate was not personal, and that is what spurred my intense interest in politics.

That is what disturbed me about what I heard on the radio.  Callers on both sides of the aisle were more interested in getting off pot shots than about making a meaningful contribution to the conversation.  The guests were more interested in steering the debate toward issues of their interest, not the issues they were on the air to discuss.  All seemed to refuse to directly answer questions.

People venting their spleens do nothing to move our country forward; it serves only to further divide and enslave us.  People engaging in honest, informed dialogue can kick start ideas that help us create a more just society.  I am glad I had Gumpy to teach me that lesson.  

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Our Last Roadtrip

In honor of a few friends who are participating in Chevy's South by Southwest Confernece roadtrip challenge, I will tell you the humorous tale of the last true road trip I took with Gumpy.  In case you want to know more about the roadtrip challenge, you can learn more at Team Detroit's website or by following the #DETChevySXSW hashtag on Twitter.  They're having fun I tell ya!

The winter after Gumpy was told he had pancreatic cancer, he decided he still wanted to go back down to Port Charlotte, FL to spend the winter.  There was a ton of coordination needed for this to happen successfully and Ema was certainly busy.  Getting visits scheduled with his doctor down there, arrainging for in-home physical therapy and scheduling the visiting nurses to come check on his intraveinous port were only the tip of the iceburg.  Ema did it without complaint.  

Part of the reason he was so weak was a blood infection he developed before they were scheduled to leave.  The chemotherapy and radiation had stopped the tumor growth while almost destroying the man. He had congestive heart failure after a bleeding incident that landed him in the hospital that August for almost two weeks.  He would tell you that his body was in a weakened condition but his fighting spirit was not.

My grandparents always made it a point to be home by before the Vermontville Maple Syrup Festival the last full weekend in April.  And Gumpy loved making the drive home.  We never discussed why, but I know I love the funny little things that happen on roadtrips.  The scenery in this country can be breathtaking and there is an uncertainty about a trip that appeals to me.  I like to think those were the reasons Gumpy liked roadtrips too.

Anyway, it was somehow decided that I would drive them home that year.  Gumpy was too weak to drive and Ema would have too much to manage with driving a grumpy Gumpy.  So I flew to Fort Meyers where my grandparents picked me up, we went to dinner at Bob Evans and I started packing their Buick Rendezouz.  I mention the packing because that is always a chore.  In an effort to not be wasteful, my grandmother likes to haul things back and forth from Vermontville to Port Charlotte.  This step is always the most painstaking in the journey because we never have enough room for everything we need to bring home.  Ever.

The next morning with a packed car and a summerized park model trailer, we hit I-75 for home.  Gumpy was always a masterful backseat driver.  There was never any question in your mind that he was perfectly in tune with everything you were doing behind the wheel because of his constent stream of comments.  When he was in good health, I was usually immune to such chatter but he was not feeling well and had been unable to drive for almost a full year so he backseat drove with reckless abandon.  Mostly about my penchant to do the speed limit on the interstate.  I feel it is highly important bordering on necessary to be going the speed limit.  He did not.  Our ensuing discussion was resolved when I reminded him that I had the car keys and could run faster than he could if needed.  

Which brought us to lunch at the great American classic eatery Bob Evans.  Gumpy loved that place.  Usually he would order the fried mush, but he decided to repeat his choice from the previous night which was sausuage gravy and biscuits.  His appetite was as strong as ever and he plowed through his lunch like a warm knife through butter.  This would normally be unremarkable except he decided that he wanted to go to Bob Evans for dinner.  He started about 4:30 by saying at every exit, "I think there's a Bob Evans at this exit."  When we would pass the exit with no sign of his resturant, he would usually say something like, "Balls.  Well, maybe there's one at the next exit."  This cycle repeated itself for what seemed like an eternity.

Remarkably, there were no Bob Evans resturants in Atlanta.  In fact, there were none in the entire state of Georgia.  I found this out by placing a frantic call to my sister at 5:30 in the afternoon to inform her that she better go online and find me a Bob Evans or she would need a new brother.  She helped anyway.  To my chagrin, she told me that the next Bob Evans would not come until we were in Kentucky, a full days drive away.  So we decided to stop at the next best thing, which was a Cracker Barrel.  And he ordered the sausage gravy and biscuits again!

Gumpy had lost so much weight during his cancer treatments and ensuing infections that we all hated to discourage eating.  At one point, his oncologist told us to forget his diabetes and just feed him a lot of whatever he wanted to eat.  Ema and I hated to discourage his food choice for the third meal in a row, but we were both a little concerned about the consequences.  Fortunately, after we found a hotel to spend the night at, our concerns proved to have no merit and he slept soundly.

However the next night we were not so fortunate.  You see, our breakfast that morning took us to another Cracker Barrel because Gumpy insisted on a good country breakfast.  Which consisted of sausage gravy and bisciuts.  Again!  For lunch, Ema and I refused to stop anywhere that might serve his favorite meal.  When we stopped in Troy, OH for the night, we found yet another Bob Evans.  And again, Gumpy ate the sausage gravy and busciuts.  For five meals in three days, sausage gravy and buscuits.  We knew something had to give.  And it did.

In order to save a little cash coming home (or to be frugal as Ema would say), we all shared a hotel room.  I had insisted on staying somewhere decent on the second night so I could sleep without cramping up.  The trip was exhausting for all of us, so we were in bed pretty early that night.  After a few hours of sleep, I heard Ema trying to wake Gumpy up and could here the most horrible sounding passing of gas you could imagine.  His diet finally caught up with him with such voracity that none of us got much more sleep.  

The drive to Vermontville was mercifly short that day.  Much of the drive was completed with the windows open so we would not be asphixiated by the noxious fumes of Gumpy.  When we arrived at the farm that afternoon, I was ready for my ride back to Detroit.  I was tired, a little cross, full of good stories, unsolicited advise and a few more memories I will always cherish.