Saturday, August 22, 2009

Thirty-Seven Years Ago Today

In August of 1972 I was living in Portsmouth, New Hampshire at Pease Air Force Base which was where my dad had been assigned following his overseas tour in Iceland. I was 13 years old and would be starting my freshman year of high school in a few short weeks at a high school where I knew absolutely nobody being that I had graduated from 8th grade while living in my hometown of Canterbury. There was a lot to be nervous about but I had changed schools a lot already as that's what we military brats did - we moved every few years and we readjusted - but more than being nervous, I was distressed during that August of 1972 as my beloved grandfather was dieing and I knew it.

My Mom's father, known as Grampie and then Gramp to all of us cousins, had been diagnosed with leukemia and going for regular blood transfusions as that was the prescribed treatment for leukemia back in the dark ages of the 1970's. Being only 13 I didn't know all the ins and outs of his condition but I knew that during the summer of 1972, he took a turn for the worse. My Aunt Eleanor still thinks that he got "a bad batch" of blood as when he started to go downhill, he did so very rapidly.

It was decided that my Mom was going to head down to Canterbury to be near Gramp as they were pretty sure he didn't have very long to live and even though I didn't know all the specifics I knew with a certainty that my grandfather whom I loved deeply wasn't going to be around much longer. I seem to remember crying at the drop of a hat a lot during that time and I tried wearing sunglasses to hide my red and swollen eyes but I doubt I was fooling anyone. The decision had been made that my two youngest brothers would go down to Connecticut with my Mom and my older brother and I would stay in Portsmouth with my Dad as Mark and I were more than old enough to take care of ourselves while Alan and John would have lots of other family members around to keep them company.

The night before my mother was going to head down, I wrote her a letter and told her that I really wanted to go to Connecticut with her as I wanted to see Gramp before he died. I remember sticking it on her bedroom door so she'd find it in the morning. I knew that if I had tried to actually talk to my Mom about it, she probably wouldn't have understood me around the tears so I figured a letter was the best way to go.

Even though my Mom understood why I wanted to go with her and my two youngest brothers, she told me that she thought it would be better if I stayed with my Dad as my grandfather no longer looked like the Gramp that I remembered and she thought it best that the last pictures I had of him in my mind were as I saw him in June and not as the emanciated person that he had become. Apparently he was now mostly skin and bones and in all honesty, that's definitely not the way I would have preferred to remember him.

My mother left on Monday to go stay at my Aunt Eleanor's, whose house was very close to my grandfather's, while I stayed behind in Portsmouth and hoped and prayed for a miracle to save my grandfather. On Tuesday, our next door neighbors, the Craigles, asked if Mark and I would like to go for a ride on their boat out in the Great Bay at Newington. I think we both really wanted to get out of the house and jumped at the opportunity to go. I seem to recall that it was very nice out on the water and we had a really good time.

Shortly after we got home we were sitting in the living room watching TV when the phone rang. My Dad answered it with a simple "Hello?" and then there was a pause before he said "When?" To this day I remember the feeling I had of my heart stopping and my blood running cold as I knew that when he put the phone down he'd tell us that Gramp had died. I was as sure of it as I was of my name as I sat frozen in my chair.

Following the annoucement that I feared, we packed a few things into suitcases and climbed into the car for the 2-hour ride to Connecticut. Mark sat in the front seat with my Dad while I sat in the backseat behind my father. I'm pretty sure I didn't move for the entire ride as I stared at the moon that followed us through the night sky as I thought to myself that Gramp would never see the moon again. Beyond that, I don't remember thinking much of anything and I hadn't yet shed a tear; honestly, I think I was probably in shock.

When we got to my Aunt Eleanor's house it was after 11:00 but it was still pretty warm. August in New England is like that. My Aunt Eleanor asked how I was holding up and I think I just shook my head to try to indicate that I was okay. I went directly to bed in the room that I had spent the last few months of my 8th-grade school year in (I had lived with my Aunt Eleanor's family rather than transfer during the last few months) and after climbing into bed the tears finally came as I listened to the peep frogs and crickets outside of my window and thought "Gramp can't hear those anymore".

As I was walking into the house from the car last night, I heard those same noises that I heard the night my grandfather died - the same peep frogs and crickets and whatever other night musicians there are that create the cacophony of noise that defines August nights - and once again I thought to myself, "Gramp can't hear those anymore." It's been 37 years since my beloved Gramp left this earthly plane and yet every time I hear those night noises, it transports me right back to August 22nd, 1972.


  1. It might be a long time ago, but we still remember these sort of things aas if they wwere fresh.

  2. i was five years old when my beloved "pappy" died. i remember it like it was yesterday... how i wished i had more time with him.

    hugs, bee

  3. You put words together so well. I appreciate all that you share with us -- both the history and the personal. Thank you.

  4. Anonymous11:12 AM EDT

    Hugs, my friend.

    Losing a grandparent was my first experience with death. While I barely knew my grandparents, it still hits home.

    Like my grandparents, I also remember the days my parents passed. Still vivid in my mind...

  5. This brought me to tears and also to the moment when the phone rang early Christmas morning to tell us my Nana Gert had died during the night while knitting one last gift.

    Funny, my sister Janice and I were just talking about that last night. One of the vivid memories she has of that day was that I spent the entire day downstairs in the basement playing Precious and Few over and over and over again bawling my eyes out. I was 16 and it still feels like yesterday.

  6. It's funny how our minds work. I can remember some days in my past with each detail, yet chunks of my life are gone. Your writing had me thinking and remembering about the people I've lost in my life. Time does seem to stand still for a while.

  7. Anonymous10:31 PM EDT

    think of it as what you heard and he heard-may be this is a reminder that the both of you are hearing each other

  8. I had a similar "memory" type experience to your last Thursday when Mandy and I took the kids to the amusement park about 30 miles from here. The day was gray, misting now and again, then sprinkling as we started down the mountain on the other side of Philipsburg (PA) but by the time we arrived at the park (just outside Tyrone -about 13 miles from Philipsburg) it had cleared off, then the sun came out and it was very nice there. And it reminded me of the day after my grandfather died and I was going to ride to Hagerstown, MD with my uncle so he could pick up his wife and daughter to bring them up here for the funeral etc. It was the end of March and it was rainy here when we left and as we went down that same mountain highway, I remember my uncle telling me not to be surprised if the weather cleared off as we got to Tyrone because he said it seemed to be a line of demarcation, often, for the weather to differ greatly from here to that area. And be darned if that isn't exactly what happened then -just as it did last week. And when it happened last week, it just brought a flood of memories to me of the day Grandpa died and that whole weekend with the viewing, funeral, etc. Funny, isn't it, the little things that will trip memories of people/places long gone, from way back in our minds, isn't it?

  9. ah linda...what a poignant story. Another one with smiles and tears. If you keep this up I'm gonna have to always have a hanky in hand when coming by here....

    Grampa's are special men.

    thanks for sharing this story.


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