07 December 2015

For Grandpa

When I think of my Grandpa, I think about Captain Von Trapp.

Now, I have to pause for a moment here, because if I know my Grandpa at all, he might take slight umbrage at this.  "Austrians don't like that movie," he would say.

"I know, Grandpa." I would reply.  "But I'm not Austrian.  You aren't Austrian."

I'd have to pause for a second there and acknowledge that if I can consider myself homesick for England, then Grandpa has every right (and probably more) to consider himself an honorary Austrian. But I digress.  (Stay with me, Grandpa.)

The Captain Von Trapp of movie creation also has a great love of Austria.  He loves his country fiercely and determinedly.  My grandpa was an intense patriot.  He spoke often of his love for America.  He studied history with great fervor, particularly the founding fathers and World War II.  He was obsessed with the Golden Age of America - the time when war was unifying and not divisive, when sacrifice was honorable and people truly believed that being an American meant something grand.  My earliest memories of Grandpa revolve almost entirely around history lessons and model airplanes, often smaller versions of planes used in the great wars.  He was always invested in wanting America to be the country envisioned by Washington, Adams, and Jefferson.  (I should also mention here that this was written on December 7th - the anniversary of Pearl Harbor.  Yes, Grandpa - I remembered.)

In addition to his love of America, my grandpa had an intense love of Germans.  I think he felt more companionship with Germans than he did with Americans sometimes - the Germans understood him.  German culture values intense discussion and debate (two things of which my grandpa was very fond.)  They value conviction and boldness in opinion (something Grandpa was never short on.)  Walking through his house is an homage to his kinship with Germany and Austria.  Gifts from beloved friends who were as loyal to him as he was to them fill the walls and shelves.  Every time I visited, I would hear him Skyping with his German and Austrian friends.  Austria was a country that shaped him, molded him, and filled him with love.

Captain Von Trapp was a character of stern exterior but very soft interior.  As a child, my grandpa's deep and booming voice was grand to the point of being almost untouchable.  To hear him speak was to feel as though you were in the presence of a giant.  As I got older, I was let into grandpa's world a bit more, and I realized that underneath his often brazen exterior lay the heart of a poet.  Like the fictional Captain, my grandpa had a deep love of music and romance.  When I think about my grandparents' house, I think of jazz.  My education in Sinatra, Como, Cole, and so many others began in their home in the hills of Ogden.

I also think of Grandpa's great love for his wife.  I asked Grandpa once how he met grandma.  He told me that they met at a dance, and he was impressed by her because she danced so close to him.  He would go on to write numerous poems about her - his beloved "little Margie".  This calls to another connection to the Captain - just as the Captain was heartbroken and fundamentally changed after the death of his first wife, my grandpa was completely broken after the death of his sweet wife.  It was hard to see.  This great, resilient man talked with me in his office just weeks ago about how heartsick he was.  He let me hug him while he cried over his intense loneliness.  He simply did not have the will to live without his companion by his side.

This picture was taken by my sister last June. 
I think the greatest lesson that Grandpa taught me was the value of intense love.  My grandpa was a flawed man in many ways - sometimes his convictions and determination would get in the way of his ability to just care for a person who needed it - but when my grandpa did choose to love something, he loved it completely.  The heartbreak he experienced was terrible, but bespoke of something beautiful too - the love he had for my grandma is the kind of love I want to have for my spouse someday.  They were, like the Captain and Maria, very different in outward personality, but the love they shared for one another was transcendent and holy to me.  To think of them without each other is impossible.  They lived life side by side, usually holding hands.  This deep love was shown to me before grandma died years ago after a back surgery left her immobile.  Grandpa watched her try to eat her peaches with a shaking spoon and tenderly took the spoon from her hands and said, "Margie, you have served me for many years.  It is time for me to serve you."

I will miss the way my grandpa smelled.  I'll miss his slow, deep laugh.  I'll miss his birthday calls and his harmonica.  I'll miss his earnest desire to teach and to share.  I'll miss his great bear hugs.  I will miss hearing him tell me that I am beautiful.  I will miss hearing his praise for and confidence in me.  The last time we spoke, he told me that he thought I was the greatest writer he'd ever read.  I think he was probably biased, but my grandpa did not give out compliments lightly.  It meant the world to me.  Imagining life without our stalwart patriarch in it is strange and empty.  There is a hole that he has left that will never quite be filled.

The last gift grandpa gave me was a music box.  It is a small box that he purchased for Grandma on their mission in Austria.  It plays, what else, but "Edelweiss" - a simple, sweet melody that strikes at the heart of who my grandpa really was - my Captain.

I love you, Grandpa.