Back in May, very shortly after returning from Roatan, my parents and brother came to visit, bringing with them my 85 year old grandfather. Though he didn't want to be parted from my grandma Marilyn, whom he visited every day at the nursing home, he wanted to see our land and our projects and didn't want to pass up this opportunity to do so.
It was a wonderful trip.
My grandpa painted again for the first time in ages. My dad helped him set up in the clearing, where he did a watercolor of our house.
(Meanwhile, we got some workshop prep done)
We also visited with my "aunt" Barbara who has known my grandparents all her life. She was the flower girl at their wedding!
We checked out nearby Lake Shaftsbury for the first time ever...
And we celebrated my mom's birthday.
Grandpa kicked butt at the post-birthday-celebration game, getting not one yahtzee like some of us did, but two.
Now, as I reflect upon my grandpa's visit, it is all the more special and bittersweet to me, because it was our last time together. About a month and a half after he came to Vermont, my grandfather passed away. The painting of our cottage was his last. The yahtzee was his last. The adventure was his last—barring, of course, the great adventure and mystery of death.
I am so thankful that our final moments together in person were here in Vermont, where he had a huge smile on his face and love in his eyes, and he told me in his Jersey accent that he was so very proud of me.
Oh, but I will miss you, grandpa.
I will miss your laugh, the way you laugh so hard, and so loud, and so often.
Thank you for teaching me to question everything. Especially politicians, lobbyists, and religions.
Thank you for insisting that the "good old days" are now, and for embracing new technology with enthusiasm. People always stare at me with disbelief when I tell them my 80-some-year-old grandpa had his own website. I was always humbled by your capacity for giving generously of whatever you have, and for your lack of concern about wealth or fashion, or trying to look a certain way.
Thank you for being wholly and completely, unapologetically yourself.
You befriended everyone, everyone, from your favorite restaurant servers to your laundry lady to your butcher, and wasted no time empowering them to realize they were smarter than they ever believed themselves to be. I will miss you answering the door or the phone with "who goes there!" which was never really a question.
I will miss your reminiscences about being a small boy in Jersey City, playing stoopball and stickball and taking the funicular down to Hoboken by yourself to buy a chicken. I will miss your love of chicken feet, and Mel Brooks, and Stregganonna.
I will miss the way you'd order "woatah no ice" because you were cold, despite always wearing a brightly colored cardigan sweater, and socks underneath your birkenstocks, even in the summer.
Oh grandpa. You'd never actually order anything that was on the menu. And you'd joke around and be confusing, and yet no server actually ever got mad or impatient because you were so damn likable and tipped so well.
Thank you for loving whipped cream even more than I do. Thank you for unabashedly ordering extra, great big heaps of it, and gobbling it up with a spoon.
Oh grandpa, I will even miss how you carried your cell phone into restaurants, and how you'd let the ringtone blare really loudly. How you'd finally fish it out of your pocket or grandma's pockabook, look at it as if it was some alien object (all while it's ringing CRAZY loud) flip it open, and then say "I'm not here!" only to confuse the poor caller.
I will miss your mathman business cards in every shop and restaurant around town.
I will miss your crooning to Jimmy Durante. I will miss your love of Cuban jazz.
I will miss running into people all over the place who credit you for changing their lives, for helping them love math, for being the reason they are who they are today.
I will miss you.
At the funeral, the hospice chaplin from the nursing home spoke about grandpa, about his brief stay there at the end of his life, but mostly about his years spent visiting my grandma there every single day. Tears came to my eyes as she spoke of the reactions of the folks who worked there, who were shocked to hear that Don had passed, so suddenly, when he had been so healthy before. The real kicker was when one distraught aid asked quietly, "Is that the man who loved his wife so much?"
Yes it was.
I love you forever, grandpa. I'll be seeing you.