This past weekend, the hubs and I traveled to my home state of Pennsylvania for the day to visit with my grandparents and to see my best friend's new baby. We stopped in at the assisted living home where my grandparents, ages 95 and 96, recently moved. Until just a couple months ago, they were still living at home and on their own way up in the mountains of western PA, and it took a lot of convincing from their 5 kids to get them to finally move across the state to be closer to family. They are still mostly independent, but they have the convenience of a dining hall right in the building, as well as a staff that can come running should they have an emergency situation.
We met them at the dining hall for lunch, and even before we came around the corner, I could hear my grandfather joking with some other residents. During lunch, my grandfather - or "Pop," as we have always called him - was his usual joking self for most of the time, even leaning over to tell Mom, his wife of 75 years, that he had fallen for the young waitress who came by to fill our water glasses. Mom shrugged, unconcerned with this new competition.
About halfway through lunch, however, Pop took a more serious turn with his conversation and started talking about family members who passed on long before I was born. He spoke first of Mom's father, my great-grandfather, Emory. Pop smiled as he remembered how Emory took his time warming up to Pop. "He had a mule that he liked better than he liked anyone else, though," Pop said. He then recounted the story of when he was out on the driveway at Emory's house with Emory, my great uncle Frank, and Emory's beloved mule. He picked up a branch or board from the driveway and asked Emory, "What would happen if I just hit that mule over the head with this?" Emory, without missing a beat, said, "There'd be two jackasses lying on the driveway."
Pop became more serious as the conversation turned to his father. He talked of how his dad never showed any emotion, not even when he and his brothers and sisters were young. When Pop's brother was dying, he went to their father and tried to talk to him, to get some sign of affection from him. He took his father's face in both hands and stared straight at him, but his father said nothing. Not a word. Although Pop is not an overly sentimental man, he has always been able to show his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and now great-great-grandchildren that he cares for them. I had never heard him talk about his father in this way before, and it was interesting to think that a man like Pop could have come from such a reserved and cold upbringing.
Of course, I know that a big part of the change in Pop came when he became a Christian back in the 1950s. He quit drinking, smoking, and gambling that day and never looked back. It was only a few years ago that his church reluctantly acquiesced in him giving up teaching Sunday School. Even though he often struggled to hear questions posed by members of the class, his insights were always so welcome that no one minded having to shout a little bit.
After lunch, we walked back to their apartment with them and spent a few more minutes chatting. I left feeling overwhelmed by how blessed I have been to be in a family where love is so easily and freely expressed. I have a huge family on my dad's side, and we are all so close. It is a truly special thing, and I am so grateful to be a part of it.