Last year Grandma and Grandpa were up visiting us, and we went to the Minnesota Zoo. Grandpa insisted on pushing my wheelchair through the whole zoo. I was too dizzy to walk, and he needed something to lean on, so between the two of us we got by just fine. We were like that my whole life, whether I was bugging him to take his medicine or he was lifting me up to ride horseback in front of him when I was too little to ride by myself.
Lots of people have Christmas-and-birthday grandpas or vacation grandpas. I had an all-the-time grandpa. We talked on the phone every Monday morning, rain or shine, but sometimes he would call me at other times, too, particularly if he’d been playing one certain game with Grandma. Many of you, particularly Grandpa’s friends from Horizons, know that Grandpa was always up for a game, whether it was dominoes or Yahtzee or cribbage. A lot of nights, he and Grandma would play Scrabble--but Grandpa had a different name for it. The next morning he would call me. “Rissy,” he would say, “we played Beat the Hell Out of Richard again, and do you know what your grandmother did?” “Did she Beat the Hell Out of Richard?” I would ask, and he would say, “She sure did!” My grandpa was a very smart man, but he lost a lot of Scrabble games. Partly this is because my grandma is a very smart woman. I can tell you the other part, though, because it’s the same reason why I lose a lot of Scrabble games. Grandpa never cared about whether a word scored a lot of points. He always cared about whether it was an interesting word.
We traveled a lot together as a family, and we never had a bad vacation. One of the reasons we always had so much fun is that Grandpa could always find something interesting--even if we dragged him somewhere he didn’t think he wanted to go. I remember once we were in St. Louis and Grandpa wanted to go to the zoo when the rest of us wanted to go to the Botanical Gardens. Of course he went along with, and sure enough, he got fascinated with the giant water lilies, the ones that were big enough to hold up a whole grown man. So he went and read up on the water lilies and told me interesting facts about the water lilies. He did that in Norway with the old stave churches, and he did that in England with Sarum Plain, and he did that in the American South with the Civil War battlefields. Wherever I’ve gone in my life, Grandpa and I could always put our heads together and find something interesting.
My husband Mark is a computer scientist, and he can tell you about background processes—things the computer is always doing behind the scenes while you’re checking your e-mail or playing Hearts. I have noticed this week how much I always had a “Grandpa” background process. Would Grandpa like this book? Next time he visits, should we show him this movie? Could we take him to this restaurant--is this Grandpa’s sort of place? When I check the mail, I check the stamps for Grandpa; when I get a glass of water, I think of the water glass wars we had throughout my teens. There is no part of my life my grandpa didn’t touch, and always, always for the better.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Grandpa.