Thursday, February 24, 2011

Growing out of the stories Gumpy left me with

I've really missed Gumpy a lot the past few weeks.  He wasn't one for telling me how to handle something or to tell me what I should do.  He was big on telling me about his experience and letting me learn from him.  Now that I'm at a point in life that he would have been very familiar with, I really miss the wisdom of his stories.

Gladys' mom decided she wanted to stay with us for a few months.  Most people who can head from Michigan to Florida around Thanksgiving but Rosa really missed Gladys, so she rode back to Detroit with us after our last visit to Tampa.  She has a ton of health challenges that have allowed us to become very familiar with Henry Ford Hospital and their staff.  Now she's understandably homesick, yet her health will not yet allow us to take her home.

This is where I could use Gumpy's help.  It was different when he was ill.  Ema was his full-time caregiver, I merely filled in during emergencies and weekends.  I worried, I would race to the hospital whenever I could and I tried to do as much as I could, but Ema handled the heavy lifting.

We are now the full-time caregivers.  Gladys is use to this, I'm not as much.  I am not afraid of the responsibility, in fact I am glad that I am trusted enough to fill the role.  Where I need Gumpy's insight is on softening my hard edges, how to balance my role as a man and a caregiver.  Both Ema and Gumpy had considerable experience in this, and Ema does provide a little insight.  But no one will be able to replace Gumpy.

When my grandparents were first married, Gumpy was a boomer for the railroad.  As he explained, a boomer was someone who hopped from railroad to railroad, each time moving up the pay scale while infuriating the previous boss.  Boomers were always good at their jobs and never had trouble finding employment.  Once the kids came, Gumpy decided to settle down and work for one railroad.

As I recall, his choice was the Florida Southern Railroad.  They moved their little family to Florida with no family and the promise of a new job.  (I still can't imagine how those conversations went, Ema ended up in a new town with three toddlers.)  As they were approaching their first year in Florida, Ema's dad Byron called.  He had cancer and needed Ema (his only child) to move home.  So, they packed their little family and headed back to Vermontville to take care of Byron.

Byron was about 50 when Ema was born, so he would have been approaching 80 when this was all taking place.  He was already a tiny man, especially by today's standards.  While being shipped to Cuba to fight in the Spanish-American War, he contracted malaria, which significantly limited his vitality.  He was unable to farm on his own, so there were always hired men helping work the 60 or so tillable acres.  Yet, he was still a loving father and grandfather.  Even after his diagnosis, he lived for several years in the small farm house with his daughter, son-in-law and three rambunctious kids.

And that's what I want to hear Gumpy talk about.  Sure, the circumstances are different.  Rosa is staying in our house and Gumpy was living at Byron's farm.  My grandparents had kids, Gladys and I are still working on that.  The move to the farm was permanent for Gumpy, Rosa's visit with us will last until she is healthy enough to safely travel back to Tampa.  But there is enough similarity to have me wondering what Gumpy would do, how he would handle things and what advice he would have for me.

In a way, this post is just about me reaching another milestone in life as it is a rant about me missing my grandfather.  My life is growing out of the stories he left me.  I wasn't ready for stories about this when he could tell them to me.  Now that I am ready, I don't have him to turn to.

I really could use a cup of coffee with the old boy right about now.