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.