As one of the youngest cousins, my memories of Grandpa Frank are of an older, slower model than the stories I hear from the rest of the family. He had an affinity for daring water-slides well into his ‘70s, but I was young enough to spend the whole time in the wave pool. I also don’t remember being given a hideous nickname, or being asked whether I was a “honker” or a “critter.”
Despite this, I definitely knew my grandpa was tough. I was there when Grandpa competed in the Senior Olympics, and I remember being awestruck by how quickly the man could cover distance with a breaststroke. (I believe this is also the event where I first heard the stories of the notorious flesh-colored Speedo, which was worn, not only in the pool, but on the rooftop while drying cherries, to the surprise and alarm of the neighbors.)
I also remember hearing stories of Grandpa Frank riding his tricycle 5 miles to the air force base when he was only 6 years old. Of all the stories I’ve heard, I think this is the one that appeals to me most, and every time I tell it, I’m tempted to exaggerate it further. Eventually, I’ll end up telling people he triked his way to the Mexican border at the ripe old age of 3 months.
Grandpa Frank just loved to have fun. I remember family events when I would stay up way later than Mom, playing card games long into the night. It was always my goal to beat Grandpa at Hearts – no small feat, considering how carefully he counted the cards, and how wickedly he would laugh when (not if) you would lose. After careful coaching in my high school calculus class, I did eventually defeat him. At one hand. While he was on Lortab. I am still proud of myself.
One of the more common Frankisms was the ability to read each and every road sign as though it was either a punch line or a revelation from above. Road trips with Grandpa were never complete without at least one rousing rendition of “Scipiooooooo!!” On one occasion, I remember nodding off in the backseat until I was jolted awake with the cry of, “Yelloooooow schoooool bus! “ We always stopped for fast food along the way; in addition to road signs, trip also included at least one conversation about the versatility of the potato.
I believe I did my mourning for Grandpa’s death a week in advance. His death didn’t shake me too badly, because he had his wife waiting for him on the other side. It cut me, though, when I went to visit him and saw the light missing from his eyes. My grandpa was a fighter; I didn’t want to see him give up. But it was clear that he was tired of fighting. That week was harder on me than his death.
I caught a glimmer of hope one day, when Dad told me he had just gotten off the phone with Grandpa. Apparently, he had called to see if Dad could spring him out of the rehab center. That was the man I knew. We had our grandpa back. He died the following Monday night.
My dad told me that when he was worried about marriage, my grandpa simply looked at him and told him, “Do the right thing, and the hell with the consequences.” This has become my life’s motto. When I die, I want it to be said that I did whatever was right, regardless. And I want to die a fighter, like my grandfather. ♠