“Pop would have been 100 today,” Mama texted me on the morning of her father’s birthday.
“I know,” I responded. I think about him every day but even more so that month, knowing his birthday was coming up.
He passed away 23 years ago, but it feels like he’s been gone longer.
Alzheimer’s took my grandfather from us years before he physically passed away.
A man who loved his family, loved God, loved working, and loved to watch sports, especially football, maybe a little too much on all accounts.
He had served in the Army during World War II, but never talked about it.
He and Granny eloped on their third date. He said once he knew he loved her the minute he saw her. They had three children, with one passing away at just a few weeks old. Pop talked about Jerry a lot while in that Alzheimer’s aura. He described him vividly just days before he died.
“Who are you talking to, Bob?” Granny asked.
My grandfather actually turned his head to look at her, as if in a brief moment of clarity. “My son, Jerry. He’s coming to get me.”
It was one of the few times my grandmother was speechless. She knew her husband was walking between this world and a heavenly one, and it was hard to accept, no matter how long he had battled this disease.
He was my first editor, long before my first job at a newspaper.
“You can’t devote a whole chapter to the care of litter boxes,” he said, looking over my outline.
“Can too,” I argued. I was 9 at the time.
He looked over his glasses at me. “Lil ‘Un, no one cares enough about a cat’s litter box to read a whole chapter on it. Work it into another chapter – don’t let it stand alone.”
We went ‘round and ‘round about that litter box chapter, sitting at the table one night.
I won, leaving the chapter in because I felt so strongly about it and had argued until he was exhausted.
When the debate was over, Pop got us both bowls of lemon ice cream.
“You learned a good lesson there,” he began. “If you believe in something, don’t give up and don’t give in. No matter who your opponent is.”
He taught me how to throw a punch.
He loved all kinds of animals, but was partial to my cat, Jim.
He never met anything sweet he didn’t like, but banana Laffy Taffy was his favorite.
He loved the holidays more than a kid, and celebrated his birthday the whole month of October, culminating in a huge candy fest on Halloween.
“Now, we can get on to the best time of the year!” he would declare on November 1st.
He delighted in Thanksgiving because it was a day of football, food, and family, with cousins, nieces, nephews, and in-laws coming by throughout the day to sit and visit over pie and coffee.
Christmas was his favorite, and I think he took as much joy in watching us open our gifts as he enjoyed getting gifts. He loved seeing his family happy.
He didn’t remember any of that though in the last years of his life.
There were so many things he missed out on because of this horrible disease.
He didn’t see me graduate high school.
He didn’t see me go to college.
He didn’t get to see Mama retire from her job. He was in the hospital for a few days before he passed away.
I was getting ready to go to Chateau Elan for my birthday and then later go to my college best friend’s wedding. My soul was too heavy to feel up to either.
Mama had washed the sheets on Pop’s bed, leaving no hot water.
“Why are you crying?” she asked. “The water will be hot again in about 15 minutes.”
“Because,” I said between my sobs. “I don’t know why you washed his sheets, Mama. I don’t think he’s coming home.”
I can remember how differently that phone rang at my ex’s house as we were getting ready to go to the wedding. My heart caught in my throat as I waited for his mother to come get me.
My grandfather didn’t get to see me graduate from Mercer a year later. “With highest honors,” Granny said, looking over the commencement program. “Your grandfather would put this in his wallet and tote it around.”
He didn’t see me get married.
He wasn’t here when I went through a divorce, which he would have had a say about, I am sure; he wasn’t there when I remarried.
I like to think he would like Lamar, as they have a lot of similarities.
He didn’t see his great grandson born, something that would have made him burst with pride.
There was so much he has missed in the 23 years he’s been gone, but there was so much he missed while he was here.
Things that would have made him roar with laughter, made him happy, and most of all, made him proud.
Proud to see his hard work and faith paid off in bringing us the things he dreamed about.
Alzheimer’s robbed him of his memories and the future he was supposed to have.
But we missed out on more-just so much more.
We missed out on him.