My grandfather, Derek, passed away this past Friday. He was born in 1939 to Joseph and Enid, on 55 Willowbrook Road…somewhere in England. As his father died in WWII when he was a toddler, he was raised by his mother and four sisters who he always said were the most feisty, brave, strong women he’d ever met. To keep him out of trouble and to make sure he was a well-educated boy, his mom sent him miles away to The Bluecoat School. From there, he joined the Army Training School and eventually, Warrant Officer for the Cheshire Regt. His time in the military brought great heartache, but it also brought amazing experiences, as he was able to travel the world. At one point, he met fellow military-men who knew his father, who saluted him, & told him how proud his father would be of the man he became.
The day he decided he should settle down, he flipped a coin – heads he’d move to the US with his sister Pat, or Australia with his sister, Rosemary. If he hadn’t flipped heads, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to have him in my life. He got a job at P&H Mining, met my grandmother in a bar, and took on the father figure role to her young daughter, my mother. Although the three of them often butted heads and had their share of personal struggles, they loved each other deeply.
When I came into the picture, we took to each other fairly quickly – two peas in a pod, sharing similar interests. He was called by many names, but to me, he was my Papa. I looked to him as a father because he treated be with more love, compassion, and respect that my own father could provide. He knew this, and took me under his wing. We’d take trips to the library, Barnes & Noble, or Borders, marveling at copies of the greats that we hoped to have in our collection. He too, loved Harry Potter and drove around the city to find all of the books to surprise me with.
We’d sneak ice cream before dinner, and then pretend we didn’t have any, so we’d get dessert afterwards. He’d sneak me $10 bills to save for a rainy day. We read the Sunday paper as we ate our breakfast in the dining room – he read the sports and headlines, as I read the comics. As I got older, we would fight over the sections. We’d both catch each other cheating at Monopoly, snicker, and create our own Monopoly game.
I’d enjoy our long car rides, as he blared conservative talk radio, the seatbelt alarm going off, because he refused to wear one, as it cut into his large belly. We’d go on an adventure to various grocery stores to buy grandma her beloved rice pudding and he was extremely patient, as he taught me how to drive despite my anxiety.
He was the first man that didn’t treat me differently because I was a girl. He taught me how to use tools, how to build, how to maintain a home, how to hunt, how to play golf, how to mix a drink. He bought my books for college and supported my dream as an author. He’d donn a devilish grin as he shared memories of his life – like how he was friends with the Beatles before they were famous (when they played in local pubs) or the mischief he got into as a kid.
He used to scare me as a little girl, his booming voice, his large build, how the air of the room demanded respect when he walked in…but the fear slowly faded as I got to know him more. He was soft as a marshmallow on the inside. He cared deeply about his friends and family and would move the world for grandma and I. We shared each other’s company immensely and I’m saddened I don’t get to share my life with him anymore. I’ll miss the days where I’ll reach for the phone, hoping to call to tell him about the latest article I wrote or a new author I think he’d like. I’m also deeply saddened to know that my son won’t get to know him like I did, just through my own stories I’ll share with him.
With Papa in mind, I’ll introduce my son to the authors we both enjoyed, like Rudyard Kipling. I’ll think of Papa when I write a political post for work and I’ll be reminded of him when I pass the candy store where he ate all the free samples & the owners had to shoo us out.
His last words to me were, “Take care of grandma” and even that shows what kind of man he was. He always put others before him. While I didn’t have the opportunity to hear all his stories or learn more about him, I feel extremely blessed to have had him in my life and while I am wrecked by his passing, it’s exactly that…passing. This world is temporary and I’m almost a little jealous he gets to set his eyes upon Jesus before me. I can’t wait to join him, and all my other loved ones, in worshiping and rejoicing in eternity, where pain and suffering is replaced with peace and joy.