My Grandpa Tanner died Monday. He went peacefully in his sleep. I'm grateful he's no longer in pain, but his loss leaves a big hole in my chest.
Growing up, Grandpa was a person who I both loved and feared. There were some things you just DIDN'T do around him, such as bite your fingernails, sneeze without covering your mouth, or mess around at the dinner table. You'd quickly learn never to say you're bored, lest you find yourself pulling weeds or cleaning out the goat's stall.
He had a strict countenance, but he had a softer side, too. I know this because until I was five years old, Grandma took care of me while mom and dad worked, so I spent lots of time following Grandpa around. His truck smelled like motor oil and Juicy Fruit gum. He always had a hankerchief in his back pocket, and he made sure it hung out a little farther when it was one of the bright pink or lavender ones I gave him each year on his birthday.
I remember feeding the cows corn husks through the fence and Grandpa's laugh when one of them managed to slime me with their sticky nose. I remember riding in front of him on his orange tractor as he turned up the soil in his garden. I remember mixing up warm formula for the calves and him helping me keep hold of the giant bottles as they ate their breakfast. I remember his tattoos – nothing more than green blobs on his forearms – and his strict instructions to never, ever, get one myself, unless I wanted them to look like his when I got old.
So while I loved Grandpa with all my heart, I was always on my best behavior around him. I made sure to sit up straight, eat all the food on my plate, and, after 18, I was careful to ensure my tattoos were completely covered.
Then, along came my kids.
"Please," I'd beg them on the way to Grandpa's house for a visit. "Don't be rude. Don't smack each other. And for god's sake, wipe your nose BEFORE snot slides down your face."
Things always started out well. My children were quiet and well mannered. They shyly told Grandpa about school and soccer, and politely accepted candies from the jar next to his chair.
After about an hour, though, the facade would begin to crack. To my shock and great relief, I soon learned that my kids could do no wrong in Grandpa's eyes.
If they sat on his flowered loveseat and got a little wild rocking it, smacking it OVER and OVER again against the wall, it was tolerantly ignored. If they ate only three bites of their hamburger during dinner, he'd likely just chuckle. If they played with Legos on his living room floor and began pelting each other with them, it was all good.
But the most surprising thing I ever saw Grandpa do was offer Ryder a bite of his own cookie – something he never, ever in a million years would have done when I was young. The germs!
As he got older and his health began to deteriorate, it was tough to see Grandpa go from a strong, independent person to someone who needed help for the most basic of things. I hated watching him get so weak he could barely lift his head, so I'm glad he's up in the clouds somewhere with Grandma.
I'll keep my memories of him close to my heart, and I'll remember the things he taught me. I eat apple peels. I like goats. I try my best to be direct. And I'll keep in mind that kids will be kids, and as I get older, the less they'll drive me nuts. Something good to look forward to, no?
I love you Grandpa. I'll miss you always.