|Nolan’s 2nd Birthday Party|
I sat with Grandpa and held his hand for the last time a year ago yesterday. On my way out of Wausau, I stopped to say goodbye before driving back to La Crosse. It was early and Aunt Patty, Uncle Frank, and Dad were still sleeping.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I had a feeling it would be my last visit with Grandpa Tom. Quietly, I took a seat beside his bed and held his hand. The tears streamed down my face as he struggled with each breath. His dog, Puddles (Grandpa’s ‘hummingbird retriever), sat on the bed at his side. As soon as Grandpa fell ill, that dog would not leave him. Even trying to get her outside or getting her to eat was a challenge.
Silently, I just stared at him. He was so thin and pale, but I could still see him just as he is in the picture above, could hear his gut laugh, and almost expected him to wake up with some wise crack or joke. I tried to remember some of his one-liners to make myself laugh, but I couldn’t come up with any.
Instead, my mind went back to the blue house on Thomas Street. Some of my favorite childhood memories took place in that house. Grandpa and Grandma Judy seemed to spend most of their time in the kitchen. George Brandenburg, Dad, and Grandpa would have coffee at the kitchen table and Shannon and I would go off and play on the sun porch. If our cousins Kathy and Kristy were in town, I would BEG Mom and Dad to take us over to visit. We’d have slumber parties and gather every blanket and pillow we could find and pile up on the floor in the living room.
Grandpa loved me before I even realized it, but I guess that’s the way it works when you’re little. You receive so much more than you give. I was told that he thought I was the neatest thing because, of all things, my childhood temper tantrums. When Mom and Dad were ready to toss me out the window, Grandpa would laugh and put me on his lap. I could be beat red in the face, bashing my head against a wall, and grunting, but Grandpa would smile.
I had heard stories about Grandpa’s temper but only saw it once in my life. I was horsing around with the dog, Millie, and she snapped at me. He picked the dog up so fast and threw it out the backdoor, while I assumed the “oh man, I just pissed off the dog and Grandpa” position under the dining room table. Grandma crawled under the table with me until I wasn’t embarrassed anymore. Just like my grandpa, I have mellowed with age.
I gave Grandpa a kiss on the cheek and whispered to him, say your prayers. I patted Puddles on the head, took a box of Kleenex, and left to spend three hours driving back to La Crosse. The 167 miles back were quiet and most of the Kleenex ended up on the floor of the passenger side. No music. Just thoughts.
It was a year ago tomorrow night that Dad called me. I was in bed, but I wasn’t sleeping. When he told me Grandpa was gone, I knew he was at peace. He must have decided he didn’t want to spend one more birthday without Grandma.
I’ll be thinking about him tomorrow, as I have been today, yesterday, and throughout this last year. I may have to pull out my Yoopers CD and listen to The Second Week of Deer Camp a few times and stop off at Red Granite to play some pull tabs. I’ll play some Johnny Cash on the jukebox, have a drink, and come up with a long list of things I wish I would have asked him when I had the chance. Grandpa Larry doesn’t know it, yet, but I am sure I’m going to have some questions for him tomorrow.