Holding Onto Love In The New Year: Remembering Grams & Gramps

Posted on January 3, 2012

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Happy 2012 everyone!

I’ve never really been a New Year’s guy. It just never lives up to the hype and you usually end up sleeping in a pool of your own vomit in an alley somewhere in rural Idaho (that didn’t happen to me-just for the record). I’m not convinced that people need an excuse to overindulge… we live in America, remember? However, I do appreciate the time of year for reflection, hope, and growth-and even that manifests itself in the misguidings of silly ‘resolutions.’ I function best on innovation, belief, love, hope, and possibilities (although Cass sometimes calls me a dreamer-maybe the world needs more of those), it’s what I hold onto amidst the onslaught of negativity, corruption, valuelessness bombarding us from all angles.

It may be this time of reflection-or a bout with restlessness- that took me back to my old travel blog I wrote while in Korea. That’s not entirely true, I didn’t get to the whole blog, I only made it to one post, the third down from the top: Heaven 1, Amtrak 0. The post took me back almost exactly 2 years ago-January 6th to be exact-and my first real experience with losing someone close to me: Grandma Wick.  Amtrak tried as hard as it could to keep James and I from getting to Milwaukee in time for the funeral. They obviously didn’t know who they were up against-I’m sure Grams is certainly as feisty in heaven as she was on earth.

To best tell this story, the following is patched together from that post, before that I would recommend clicking through the gallery of pictures I found in my computer of the old-old days, the old days, the kinda old days (yeah, that’s Jeff, James, and I in leisure suits one Easter morning… oh yeah!)

 Wrestling with my own emotions, I wrote a letter. My plan was to read it at the service. Since we were unsure of our arrival, Jeff graciously accepted that role for the three of us grandchildren.
Dear Grams,

I know it was a wish of yours for all of us to speak at your funeral. Since I’ve had more practice writing than I have speaking, I thought I’d simply write you a letter. Besides, this may save us the embarrassment of being a blabbering fool in front of everyone. So I hope you don’t mind.

Now that I think of it, this will really just be a thank you letter. For so many things, it’s really hard to condense it all down into just words, but I’ll see what I can do.

Thanks for those marathon Solitaire battles you played with me at the kitchen table on California Street, and thanks for teaching me how to cheat a little too. While we’re at your old house in Milwaukee, thanks so much for always keeping that big freezer stocked with ice cream treats. I told you this last week, but I’m wondering if you might be the reason I have my sweet tooth.

Easter will never, ever be better than those huge dye sessions with the coffee mugs full of coloring scattered all over the table. Then, waking up early to search, literally, all over your house for eggs and baskets and presents. It was mayhem of the best kind.
None of my Christmases were ever be complete until I eat your famous hot beef, or chocolate chip cookies, or even the chex mix for that matter?

Thanks for my small mouth and my good looks. I’ll never be afraid to tell people I look like my Grandma. We’re both darn good looking, anyways.

Thanks for cutting me some slack when I was in third grade at the Bad News Bears little hooper picnic and I introduced you as Grandma and Grandpa. Coach Bandt asked what your names were and I couldn’t remember so I just said Grandma and Grandpa. Everyone laughed.

I know that all of us really cherish the fact that you and gramps made it to practically all of our games. Before each game I took a second to find everyone, you were always first. I knew exactly where you were; in that first row, usually with Mrs. Rubick. I feel like it was just yesterday that we were standing at the fence at Municipal Field, I was sweaty, filthy, and, in my case hurt and taped all up, but overall just rank in all kinds of ways. You were always waiting for that big sloppy hug and kiss afterwards.

Thanks for making us eat at that Norwegian restaurant when we were in Disney World. I don’t remember much other than the fact that it was your idea, and it was all pretty gross except for the bread. From then on, I’ve always been really proud of that part of my heritage.

Thanks for getting me up with ice cubes early in the morning, well that was gramps- but I think you might have had something to do with that, so that we all could go to McDonalds when we visited Milwaukee. I still get hankerings for an egg mcmuffin even though I’m not a fast food fan.

Having you at my college graduation was pretty special. I’m not sure if you realized this or not, the first person I hugged after graduating college, aside from the school president, was you. I remember seeing you on the floor of the UNI-Dome with that awesome Grandma smile. I couldn’t resist, had to run over.

Grams, I see you as an example, really. We all do.

Your love and relationship with Gramps is something so special. Something I hope to model mine after. I’ve thought about that a lot recently, with Cass and I beginning our lives and I know I will keep that close to me for the rest of my life. Your love for your family is amazing. You love the crap out of us and I know I’m not the best at showing it, but I felt the same about you. All of us are truly blessed to have felt and been a part of that. Even when things weren’t going as you wanted, even this last week, you were strong; you were graceful. Spending the time together before Christmas sharing my pictures from Korea, is already one of my favorite memories with you. Even then, in the hospital, uncomfortable, and anxious to get home, you were graceful. You were an example.

Thinking about it, I don’t know if this is something that I’ve developed over the years because of my travels and being gone so much, perhaps it might just be a coping mechanism, but I want to think it’s more than that. I truly believe that when you are away from people, whether that’s in this life or because of distance, when you think of that person, when a memory floats back making you smile, when you suggest to someone that ketchup on your eggs makes them so much better, when you smell cookies baking and it remind you of that person, when you eat a reeses peanut butter cup and subconsciously make a ball out of the foil it came in, when it’s St. Patrick’s Day and you are justified in celebrating because your Grandma always reminded you of those three drops of Irish blood you have…
When you do these things and think of that particular person, to me, it brings them back to life, and it brings them back to me. You’ll never be gone. You will live in and though us all. It is hard to think I won’t pick up the phone and hear, “its so great to hear your voice, you made my day,” but I have so many great memories that will keep you near me forever.

Lastly, on a ride back to Dad’s house, I asked him if he knew the story behind the words “toot-a-loo” that you

and Gramps say to each other. Since I’ve heard Gramps use it so much, and I even use it once in a while without thinking, I figure I should know the back story. I hope it’s correct, because I like it, and I’m using toot-a-loo from now on, if that’s ok with you and Gramps, I guess.

Dad said, ‘it originated during the war. When you leave for something like that, you can’t be too certain that you’ll return. Gramps never wanted to say ‘good-bye’ when he was leaving. It maybe felt too final or depressing, as if they may never see each other again. Instead, they would just say ‘too-a-loo’ to each other. It’s more a way of saying I love you and I’ll see you again.’

It’s perfect and so fitting. So I’ll finish this letter to you with the same words I spoke to you the last time we were together.

I love you, Grams.

Toot-a-loo

The ceremony was wonderful, beautiful, and many people came. Being really the only set of grandparents I’ve ever had, and never yet losing a member of our family, this funeral hit especially hard. There was a nice luncheon afterwards where we all had “a chance to visit” as grams would always say.

Little did I know that James and I found ourselves heading back to Milwaukee in one month for Grandpa’s funeral. 60 years together, and one month apart was simply too much for one of the strongest people I’ve ever met.

I have a picture of my high school graduation sitting on my dresser. The sun is shining, my hair is short, and the young man looking at the camera has no idea what the world has in store for him, but there is a contented smile on his face. Grandma and Grandpa Wick are on either side of me, smiling and proud. I see that moment every day. Sometimes it’s just a glance between finding clean underwear and sips of morning coffee. Sometimes I pause at a memory with them. It’s a moment I get to have with them, everyday. In those moments… they are always with me.


Apparently I like to change in front of a lot of people, because next to that picture is a shot of Cassie and Me from our wedding. I often wonder if Grams and Gramps’ death was the only way they could have attended the wedding. I’m not sure, but I knew without any doubt they were there-with that same content look they had in my graduation picture. The juxtaposition of those two pictures was done with purpose. Grams and Gramps are a part of me, they helped mold me into what I am. I feel the same about Cassie. Robert and Lois Wick may not have streets named after them, or football fields, or libraries; but their legacy of love will always be present in me… and all they’ve shared it with. It’s beautiful to think about.

I still miss them terribly- the calls, the cookies, the bear hugs- everything. But I’m not grieving anymore; I’m lucky… We’re lucky.

So the lesson we all can take is that when you make those resolutions, hopes, improvements, goals-whatever you call them- for 2012, make them out of love. Anyone can lose 10 pounds for a couple of weeks, or give up alcohol until the Superbowl. Love yourself, your wife, your grandparents, the earth, for others, anything… it’s really the only thing that matters.

Now that’s a legacy-Love. Thanks Grams and Gramps.

To read the entire Heaven 1, Amtrak 0 post, just click here.

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Posted in: Think