Awhile back my dad asked me what sparked my love for writing and where I got my skills. My answer – a college composition class. The instructor, Valerie, encouraged us to write from the heart, and for the first time – I did, penning this essay, titled “Grampa Jim,” about the day I found out about the passing of my grandfather.
Breathing hard, running at a steady pace, she saw another turn and after that the last hill of the race. The finish line chute was in sight. Pick up the pace, she said to herself. Keep going. Stop thinking about the burning in your lungs. You are almost there. It was over. She had survived another grueling cross-country race.
The girl’s team boarded their van and the boys theirs. Now on the open road, the girls’ speeding van was filled with light-heartedness and laughter. Jokes soon arose suggesting that the driver would get ticketed sooner or later for speeding in a school owned vehicle. Then suddenly the light-heartedness turned to urgency and a frantic race to buckle up. The van was being pulled over. The girls all knew what was coming, after all they had just been joking about it.
The officer came to the driver’s window. “Is Terryn in this van?”
Shocked at this question, “Yes, I’m here.”
In a troubled tone the officer asked, “Could I ask you to step to the back of the van, please?”
Her heart was racing as she replied, “Sure.”
“I am really sorry to have to tell you this.” There was a pause.
Thoughts raced through the girl’s head. Are my parents okay? Are my bothers okay? What happened? This is taking forever. Just say it already.
“Your grandfather passed away today.”
Immediately tears filled her eyes and she began crying hysterically. The boy’s van pulled up. The cross-country coach jumped out and ran over to the crying girl on the shoulder of the road, hugging his heartbroken athlete until her parents pulled up.
Once there, her mother rushed over to her. Throwing her arms around her daughter, she explained through her own sobs how they had found out. The girl’s father approached the two hysterical women on the side of the road. He held them both close to him, hugging them very tightly. His own father had passed away four years earlier and he knew exactly what is wife was going through.
After getting her things out of the cross-country van, the girl and her family headed down the road the seven miles it was to the town where the tragedy had taken place. When they arrived the girl and her mother rushed into the house. They were desolately greeted by one of the EMTs that had answered the call and the girl’s grandmother.
Her story began, “When I opened the door after arriving home from work, I smelled stuffed green peppers in the oven…” She paused to wipe her eyes.
“I said ‘Smells good Jim,’ but there was no answer.”
Tears rolled down her cheeks and between hiccups she continued, “As I walked further into the kitchen, I could see him in our bedroom on the bed.”
She paused as a blank stare overtook her face, then continued, “I walked into the bedroom to find him laying back with his oxygen tank running wide open. I checked his pulse… I didn’t know what to do… I called 911…”
“I knew he was gone…”
Her voice shaky and troubled, “I have an idea as to what happened. I think he must have been getting short of breath and probably scared. I’m thinking he came in here and hooked up to the tank because it can run at more liters than the concentrator.”
The girl, her mother and her grandmother were all hysterically crying together. Loud sobs of grief filled the space that was once her grandfather. The girl’s father, and the EMT that had stayed, tried to comfort them through their sobbing.
The girl’s grandfather had always made himself out to be a strict man. He was old-fashioned and didn’t take kindly to back talk and disrespectful behavior. Her brothers had a knack for pushing his buttons, but the girl, on the other hand, could bring a smile to his face. They had a special bond. She was his only granddaughter and, not to mention his oldest grandchild. Ever since she could remember, she had been her grandpa’s “Snooks.” She has him wrapped around her little finger and he spoiled her rotten. They had games that they would play and special words for just the two of them.
She was the only grandchild allowed to sit on his lap for more than an hour at a time. His lap was her own personal chair when she stayed at her grandparent’s house. There was no place she loved sitting more than his lap. He had a big belly that hung over his pants; it was soft and warm. It was nice to cuddle up to on cold days. He had a way of putting his hand on her shoulder or back making a railing so she wouldn’t fall out of “her chair.” They would sit together for hours watching TV, reading the newspaper, or sleeping.
They also had a special game they would play. It didn’t really have a name, but the rules were very clear. When she stayed with her grandparents, her grandpa would give her kisses before her grandmother would get kisses from him. She wasn’t allowed to keep any kisses from her grandmother. If her grandmother gave her a smacker, she was to wipe it off.
“How ‘bout a kiss, Snooks,” he would ask with a mischievous smirk smeared across his face.
As she looked at her grandmother out of the corner of her eye, she would say, “Okay.” She would walk over and give him a kiss on the cheek and he would return it.
Playing along with their game her grandmother would say, “Snookie Poo, do I get one too?”
I don’t know. What do you think, Grampa?” He would just look at her with that same smirk, as she walked over to her grandmother. Her grandmother would always put her cheek up to the girl’s lips, but she would never get a kiss. Then her grandmother would grab her with both hands, pulling her face closer so that she could kiss the girl’s cheek. After her grandmother had kissed her and let go of her, the girl would back away and smile roguishly as she wiped her cheek where she had just been given a kiss. Then the girl and her grandfather would smile at each other as if to say, “we have won again,” even though they knew that weren’t really any winners in this ongoing game.
The grief that had been in the house two nights prior, now filled the mortuary as the girl and all of her family endured the visitation. She was filled with an indescribable sense of loss, loneliness, and mostly, guilt. For weeks before he passed, she had promised to come stay with her grandparents, but never did. Now he was gone – forever. And she had not even said goodbye. If only I had made good on my promise and stayed with them… was all she could think.
The girl was reluctant to go to the casket and see him there, lifeless. When she finally made it up there, she saw that he was not lifeless at all. Yes, he was lying there motionless, but across his face was that devilish smile he always flashed her.
Her grandmother came up and hugged her from behind saying, “See, even now he is still being mischievous.”
Those words of comfort stuck with her through that day and the following days. To this very day, whenever she misses him she thinks about how even now he is flashing that smile at her.