29 June 2009

Grandpa Reed

Grandpa and Michelle Cruise 2007

I've posted several times about my grandpa (almost all of these posts have him in them), but this post is the hardest to write. The thing is, this beloved grandpa of mine just said goodbye to this world.

Let me tell you a story about my grandpa. It starts like this: when I was little, we didn't have the best relationship. We didn't fight or anything, but I certainly didn't feel close to him and it might even have been bordering on being scared of him, such as when he would twist my ear as he asked me if I had a clean room. You see, Grandpa just wasn't a fan of being warm and fuzzy. I remember walking in on a fight he and Grandma were having about whether the word "surprise" had two Rs or one, and he wasn't happy with the answer that his spelling bee champion granddaughter gave.

He liked to do things his way and if you didn't do something his way, he would make you quit and do it himself, like the time he took a broom away from my dad because he wanted to show him how to sweep his driveway. (He did similar things to me and everyone.) Or the time when my aunt and uncle moved his sprinkler in from the corner so he would stop complaining about people running over it, and he moved it back (correct me if I'm wrong here). I guess some of it was provoked. I remember my cousin Ginger and I purposely messing up the rug in front of the door because he had complained so much about it. ("Who keeps messing up this rug?!?!") Whatever the case, Grandpa was not Grandpa. He was Grumpy. (I still don't know to this day if he knew we called him that.)

But that didn't mean that he didn't do things that impressed me. He and my grandma always gathered his family together once a month for a huge dinner. He was known to give generous amounts of dollar bills that were so brand-spanking-new that they were still attached like a notepad and emitted a fabulous smell. Because of Grandpa, the Fourth of July is my favorite holiday, since it generally consisted of breakfast in Brighton with family, a march in the parade, a few candy-throwing adventures (though the direction of the throwing changed over the years, and I know some of you know what I'm talking about), and maybe a hike in my beloved Big Cottonwood Canyon. Grandma and Grandpa made Christmas Eve the best night of the year, where, surrounded by family, we would eat til we couldn't move, talk, act out the Christmas Nativity with Grandpa reading from Luke, talk as we waited for Santa to show up, excitedly sit on Santa's knee (though the "excitedly" was some years more show than anything) to receive our presents that came out of a bag Grandpa selected from, and addressed to us in handwriting that seemed somehow familiar. Oh, how I missed that night the last two years.

But then again, just for some more contrast, let's not forget how Grandpa was generous about helping out with home remodeling, only to ignore your wishes and pay for what he thought would be good—the Grandpa-selected storm door, the shelves built by Don Whipperman, and the painted cement floor instead of tile.

However, a miracle happened. Grandpa just got better and better during and after the years when my grandma was sick with cancer. His strong opinions did not disappear, but his general grumpiness softened and the whole family saw a side of him we had never seen before. Maybe the credit should go to my grandma's prayers, desiring not to die until she had a better relationship with him. Or maybe it should go to the fact that he was retired (he once told Amy that was the reason). Whatever the case, Grumpy disappeared and Grandpa took his place. I think that was why I admired him so much.

But that's not what built our relationship. After Grandma died, I decided I wanted to be closer to Grandpa and to support him now that he was without his love. It started with me visiting him more often. I brought my boyfriends and potential boyfriends there to meet him, always enjoying one of his famous frozen cookies dunked in milk and maybe a glass of his and Grandma's famous grape juice. Being there more often meant I started helping out with little things, like cleaning the dishes. As Grandpa saw I was willing to help, or maybe as I was available, he started asking me for things.

He would ask me to type a letter for him and marvel at how fast it was done. He would call me from his land line to come help him figure out his cell phone, which he never used but which he liked to look at because of the picture of Grandma on the screen. With both of us being believers in work being equal to love, pretty soon, there was a general feeling of comfort between us. We didn't always expect anything of each other, but we knew that if we asked, we would get what we needed.

I knew Grandpa liked his yard to look nice, so one time I snuck into his backyard in the early morning and swept up all the leaves. Another time, I weeded his flowerbeds. Doing things that way was a lot more fun, because he hadn't asked for it, and truth be told, he didn't come out to check on your work. :) Nevertheless, I learned to laugh at the stubborness he had retained and he always seemed surprised when I lightly teased him about it—he would grumble a little and stop his remarks.

I recognized myself in him as a hard worker who had little tolerance for laziness, people not measuring up to my expectations, or people doing things a different way than I would have. I didn't give up on the crazy job I loved because of his marvelous example to me that people can change, that I could change—though his trademark "you just have to be careful!" still came out at regular intervals, even in relation to moves the Jazz made in basketball games.

With things at work getting more and more complicated, my dating life being roller coaster-ish, my uncertainty about what to do with my life, and my unwillingness to open up to my parents, Grandpa's house was my emotional getaway. I would leave my house at a full-out run, letting all my tears out, and by the time I got to Grandpa's, I could just forget about the outside world, either working for Grandpa or just by enjoying his company. I could stay at Grandpa's for hours, playing the piano or reading the newspaper while he watched TV or read a book. Sometimes we would watch his favorite show, Matlock, together, with chilled cans of Kern's fruit juice in our hands. When he felt up to it, we would work in his garden, where he wanted tall tulips, short green grass, and colorful petunias. Once we planted strawberries together.

In the last several years, Grandpa loved reading LDS fiction (which just goes to show you how much he'd softened up). He read book after book and always tried to offer them to me, about how the story was just so sweet and reminded him of his Edie, but they just weren't my thing. I think I got through part of one. He picked up many of those books at the library where my librarian friends would see him. Sometimes they'd even talk to each other about finding a nice young man for me. Since I was also often at the library, and my holds were next to his in the "G" section for "Glauser," I would see what he was going to read or watch. One time, I wrote a note on the hold slip for him. He was absolutely delighted.

Though we didn't share a love for LDS fiction, we enjoyed some movies together. On one rainy Saturday, we got together to watch a movie that could be labeled as a chickflick. Instead of thinking it was cheesy, he enjoyed it just as much as I did. We both cried during the unrequited love parts. At the end of the film, we both sighed and sat there, lonely—he for his beloved wife, and me for that future guy. We were lonely, but not alone, a comfort to each other.

Grandpa and I also shared a sweet tooth, meaning he offered me ice cream with strawberries or chocolate-covered raisins whenever I showed up.

I often was able to extend an invitation for him to eat with us (thanks Mom and Dad) on Sundays and always delightedly greeted him at his car, offering him my elbow to get those stiff joints out of the car and up the stairs. It was at one of those Sunday dinners that he first announced "Michelle is my favorite grandchild." Though it probably wasn't very nice to say it, I don't think it was a surprise to anyone, and it pleased me. It was also during these dinners that he got to know my best friend Tanya. I was always surprised when he asked about her, saying that she was such a nice girl.

One summer day, though a cheapskate (something else I got from Grandpa), I decided to build up my financial credit with my first credit card, and buy a watch at Fred Meyer's Smith's Marketplace. I planned to stop at Grandpa's and then take the bus there, but when I told Grandpa of my plan, he said it was silly to spend so much on a watch (I think it was $70 or $80) and promptly let me drive us to Wal-Mart in his car. There, he bought me a $10 watch (and asked the lady at the counter to adjust it to fit my wrist) and a pair of earrings "so I would look pretty for my date" that night, reminding me that he prayed for me to "find a nice young man to marry" every day.

After that, he let me drive him often, grumbling about the seatbelt and brakes. And though some would find his errands tedious, I loved spending the time with him and checking things off his list, even if it involved complaining to glasses stores employees about how expensive glasses were. He would usually reward me by taking me out to lunch, where he would joke to everyone that I was his date.

When Grandpa was having some health problems (more than usual) and had a catheter, while others complained about the smell, I went and did what I could to deal with it. I almost lost my cookies several times while scrubbing his bathroom floor, but I finished the job out of love for him.

Then, when Grandpa was at a retirement center for a short time, he let me take his car. We all picked up some things from his house for him, but when he wanted to go home for a while himself, since I had his car, I got to take him. I pushed him to the car in his wheelchair and loaded and unloaded that freakingly heavy peace of metal into and out of the car just for him. Though we were both grumpy that day, that didn't stop him from beckoning to every nurse we saw and bragging about me upon our return to the retirement center.

I could recount a billion other memories, like the half-full cans of pop at the cabin that were the bane of his existence, or how he once assigned his grandchildren numbers (I'm number 9), or the time at my brother's baseball game when he dared me to throw a ball at a guy who had a circle on the bum of his shorts and then did it himself and pretended not to noticed anything, or how he started taking piano lessons using the book "Teaching Little Fingers to Play" after retiring . . . but I'll move on to the rest of the story.

One day, Grandpa declared that he'd dreamt about taking the whole family on a cruise instead of buying a new car for himself. He excitedly planned with the help of one of my uncles and a travel consultant, and we all were looking forward to the trip.

It was about this time that I was having some real trials at work that led to finishing up over 200 pages of training documents and saying goodbye to the job I had given up so much for. I struggled to find myself and spent hours just seeking some therapeutic nothingness, but I knew I had to get away. However, I pushed those feelings back, just because I wanted to be able to be there for Grandpa on his extravagant cruise.

Some of my old dreams resurfaced, and I walked to the nearest post office to send applications to faraway places. When I got in to two German universities, I avoided telling anyone for a while because I couldn't bear to think about leaving Grandpa behind. Somehow I made it to the cruise and as my parents, siblings, and Grandpa all sat at one table, I made my announcement. Grandpa told me he was proud of me, but, getting teary-eyed, that he sure would miss me. Then he immediately said something typical of Grandpa: "I think I'll make Sica my new special assistant." Ouch. Thanks. Knowing Grandpa, I felt just a bit of jealousy before I realized what a great privilege that would be for Sica and laughed it off.

When I got to Leipzig, I called him using Skype more often than I called anyone else in the U.S. Even if he didn't answer, I would laugh to hear him say, "I'm not here in my home right now. Please leave me a meh-siege [that's the way he says "message"]." I sent him postcards once in a while, and each Saturday when the jokes would come out at keepapitchinin.org, I would forward them to him and my dad. I never knew if he read them, but I imagined him opening his email now and then and chuckling a bit as he pushed "print."

Hearing from my dad that Grandpa probably wasn't going to make it much longer was extremely hard. My mom said that he wasn't himself and I wouldn't want to see him like that, but I kept thinking, "I'm his favorite grandchild, and I'm not there when he needs me." At the very least, I didn't want to be alone when he went. For a week, I prayed that he would live, though I know very well that I will see him in the world to come. I felt awful keeping him in such a state of suffering and with his own desire to move on to the next life. Then I prayed for him to live, but if he needed to go, that he would be able to "go gently into that good night."

Finally, after two weeks of stressing out over him and my master's thesis, I booked a ticket despite my impending due date and lack of funds. Then I prayed and fasted that he would live long enough for me to see him again, or that I could at least be there to honor him at the funeral.

He passed away four hours ago.

I'll be playing the organ at his funeral which will most likely be this coming Friday. On Saturday, we'll celebrate the Fourth of July just as he'd want us to.

That old guy, who could be crabby and funny and generous all at the same time. I sure loved him.


  1. Typing through tears I have so say "Good job Michelle" and let you know that during these last difficult days he always got a sweet smile on his face when I'd tell him you sent your love and that you were coming. He loved - loves you dearly and so do I.

  2. I'm so sorry Michelle. You and your family are in our prayers.

  3. What a beautifully written tribute, Michelle. I loved reading it and felt your deep love for your grandpa. You are a wonderful grand-daughter!

  4. I think while you've been gone Grandpa decided to build more of a relationship with me, it was great helping him write letters and set up his new cell phone and redo his speed dials on his home line. In a way I'm glad you weren't here to see him because he hasn't been remotely like himself.

  5. Michelle, what a wonderful relationship you were able to build with your Grandpa! I'm sure it will continue to grow in what may seem like the far future, but will happen nevertheless :).

    I remember the time he took us to the Hale theater and out to eat and told everyone to look at the pretty girls he was with. At first I felt guilty for accepting his generosity, but soon came to realize that he didn't. What a kind and funny man he was! I always enjoyed the time I was able chat with him.

  6. What a beautiful post Michelle! So sweet and loving, made me miss my own grandpas who have passed.

  7. Thank you for such a beautiful post about your grandpa. It really touched me. It would make a good eulogy.

  8. Oh Michelle! I'm sitting here bawling into my dinner and I just have to tell you how much I loved your grandpa. I assume you know, but I grew up just a few houses down the street and he was always so, so sweet to me. I thought it was interesting to read about the "grumpy" side of him because I never saw him like that. There was always a smile and big hug for me. I just saw him not too long ago when I was home for a Sunday. He was so kind and such a wonderful man. I've also missed your grandma over these last years. I think it is such an honor to know them and this is such a beautiful tribute to him. I'm sorry for your loss. Thank you for writing this!

  9. Michelle, this is such a sweet tribute to your grandpa. I'm sorry to hear about his passing. When my grandma died it was quite unexpected and happened all while I was carless in Provo.

    Somehow the only thing that really seemed to comfort me was the song "Come unto Him" (114), which reminded me how close my grandma was/is.

    I'm glad you'll be around for his funeral, and what an honor to be able to play the organ for the meeting. I look forward to seeing you around!

  10. He seems like such a cool grandpa. I loved your post/tribute.

  11. Thanks for the post. I'm sorry to hear of your loss but you and your family will be in my prayers.

  12. Michelle,
    Sorry to hear about your Grandad. I remember him well. Memories are wonderful things and it sounds you have so many wonderful moments to remember with him. You will do a super job playing the organ, my thoughts are with you.

  13. A little late, but I did tell you in person what a great tribute this is. Eloquent, moving, personal, and right from the heart of a loving granddaughter and obvious literature student. I'm glad I got to meet him.

  14. After reading what you have written I can feel that deep emotional bond you have with your grandpa. What a beautiful relationship. The steps you took to get to know him and to help him are very inspiring. Thank you for sharing such wonderful story between you and your beloved grandpa.