Yesterday, December 14th, 2012, my grandfather passed away. He was 76 years old, and was diagnosed with Leukemia just a few weeks ago. Earlier this month I received the phone call that I should “probably come home”, and I’m extremely glad I did. Had I not done so, I would have been unable to see him alive and well one last time.
To me he was not Eugene Dowe. No, he was Papa. Growing up I would always visit him and Omi (grandma), and there are a few things I distinctly remember. Their house was an interesting half-ranch/half-split-level, and walking down the stairs into the lower floor was always walking into somewhat of an adventure. Stacks upon stacks of magazines and children’s VHS tapes stretched on for as far as my little eyes could see. In the corner of the room near the fireplace was a tiny little elephant sculpture, completely covered with tiny seashells. Tom & Jerry, as well was Mighty Mouse and Dumbo, were common films to watch as I would try to find the Funnies section within each stack of newspaper. The basement always had a distinct smell, and while I realize now that it may have just been the smell of dust and magazines, it became “Papa’s smell”, and any time I catch a whiff of an old stack of paper I’m reminded of all those years watching movies with Omi and Papa.
I also remember eating many meals in their kitchen. When I was little I would get dropped off for the day, and when I got older I started driving myself over to occasionally have dinner. Papa was usually reading the newspaper, while Omi cooked up something special. My favorite was spaetzle, though I can’t be too sure if it was Papa’s favorite as he had a stoic face on most of the time. Above the kitchen sink is a window with one of those semi-transparent stick-on decorations of a mother duck and her ducklings. Whoever put it on sort of messed it up in the process, and one of the baby ducks is folded completely over the mother duck, creating the illusion that there is a full grown baby duck sitting inside of the mama duck.
Anyone who knew Papa knew he was a collector. “A collector of what?”, you may ask. The collector of everything of course! If he found something that he thought may be of use for someone he knew, he would load it into his truck and drop it off the next time he was at your house. Board games, books, tshirts, CDs, or even a half working blow drier. I remember somewhat recently when he brought me a shopping bag full of CDs, and I realized that I didn’t even own a CD player anymore. I spent a majority of that day importing those CDs into iTunes, but I still have the bag full of CDs sitting in a closet at home. He always wanted to give things to others, hoping he could find that special something they were missing, or give them a gift they were not expecting.
Every time someone passes, I seem to have one final memory of them burned into my head. For me, it was just as I was walking out the door to visit a friend, and I was wearing this ridiculous snow cap that looked like a frog with eyeballs on top. My mom asked Papa, “Dad, what do you think of Joe’s hat?” He turned, looked confused for a second, and then smiled and laughed. I will never forget that memory, as he didn’t smile too often. I’m forever grateful that I was able to get him to smile at least one more time.
Papa wasn’t a man of many words, in fact I don’t recall any profound discussions he and I ever held. What I do remember is him always asking me how my day was going. It was the same question, every time without fail. “What do you know, Joe?” I think he got a kick out of the fact that it rhymed, and I have to say I always chuckled a little bit when he would ask. I would always reply with, “Not too much, just going through school/life/work”, and then try to describe a bit of my day. I always had to make sure to yell a little bit, as his years working for the telephone company had started to make him go deft in his right ear, and his stubbornness kept him from getting a hearing aid for years. The question became harder and harder to answer as time went on. Over the years I became more and more involved in computers, going from just a simple computer geek to a full programmer in the span of a few years. What do I know? I knew tons of things, but how would I even begin to describe volatile random access memory, or how to increase your front side bus speed? We both knew I wouldn’t be able to explain most of the things I was involved with on a day to day basis, but he always took the time to ask. He was my grandfather. He still cared, and made sure to show that he cared about my day. Every time he asked I had his full attention, as if I were the only thing that mattered in that moment. He gave me his full attention and accepted any answer I gave him without judgment. He was one of the best listeners I have ever known, even if you did need to chirp up so he could actually hear you.
I pray going forward that I can show that same kind of love for my family members and friends. That I can take a moment out of my day, drop everything I’m doing, and just ask
“What do you know, Joe?”