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.