Tomorrow my grandpa turns 90 years old. He’s the last grandparent my sister, my cousins, and I have left on either side of the family, and this weekend most of us were able to get together and spend time with him and each other as we celebrated his life. He was born in Iowa in 1921, got together with my grandma because he got to the bus stop before another guy to pick her up when she was deciding between the two of them, went off to work for the FBI, married my grandma and had their first daughter before he went off to serve in the Navy in World War 2, was a signalman way up on the top of the USS Marathon when it was hit by a Japanese suicide torpedo in Buckner Bay, and to this day doesn’t like pineapple juice very much because he had to drink so much of it when the ship was under repair.
After he came home from the Pacific he and my grandmother had two more daughters, the youngest being my mom. He worked his way up in the FBI until he became a special agent working on financial cases because he had a college degree in accounting. He later became an instructor for incoming agent classes. His FBI scrapbook is full of amazing stuff, and he had his 25-year service pin presented to him personally by J. Edgar Hoover. By this time he was living just outside of Washington, D.C. and was retired from the FBI and two other jobs when I was born there in 1983.
My family moved to Cincinnati before my sister was born in 1984, so we were only able to see my grandparents during the summer and at Christmas. I loved his house, and in particular I remember him watching birds from a window in his living room, him taking me for rides on his lawnmower with me in his lap, and his woodshop in the basement. To this day I love the smell of a woodshop.
When we moved to South Carolina he and my grandma moved soon after to be near to us and, I’m sure, to be further south where the weather was nice. He and my grandma had a house built, and they’d go by it every day to watch the builders put it up. All through high school they’d come to my stuff at school, and then I moved away to go to college. While I was there both grandparents on my dad’s side died, and it’s one of the great regrets of my life that I wasn’t able to spend much time with them as an adult.
By the time I moved back home in 2006 my grandma had gone through a couple strokes and had started her slow decline. She lived for almost three more years after I moved back, and I watched my grandpa visit her every day in the nursing home. Taking care of her became his whole life, and I think he might have loved her more and better in those three years than in their whole life together. His life with her before she died is the greatest example of love I’ve ever seen.
Since I moved back I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with my grandpa as a little more of a peer (if a late-20s grandson and a late-80s grandfather can be peers at all) and I consider the time I’ve been able to spend with him to be some of the most valuable times I’ve ever spent doing anything. I’ve learned more about his life when he was young, become more familiar with his outstanding wit and truly funny sense of humor, and gotten to where I think I understand him pretty well as a person. And he’s one of my favorite people in the world. I’m sure that if I’d been able to spend as much time with my dad’s dad before he died I would feel the same way about him, but the unfortunate truth is that I wasn’t. But I have been able to spend time with this grandpa, and I hope my dad doesn’t feel left out when I say that as I watched my grandpa this weekend with most of the family that he had created, this family of 3 daughters, 9 grandchildren, and 17 (I think?) great-grandchildren that he’s the patriarch of, and as I thought about the life he’s had and the person I’ve learned he is, I realized he’s the greatest man I’ve ever met.