This past Sunday, we gathered under protected shade of the tree planted by my mother-in-law’s family generations ago in the tiny Texas town called Knox City.
The wind was blowing constantly. With its unison of the sound of a car or semi-truck passing by every so often, I could barely hear Bill’s stories about Grindad, who passed last week. Bill, Grindad’s brother, had a slew of stories to tell. The time Grindad went hunting, and everyone thought he was lost when they were boys. “I’m not lost—the dogs are!” Grindad had said, upon being found by the others. Those years Grindad cared for Bozo, the ferocious dog, controllable and compatible only with Grindad.
Despite his driven and stubborn nature, we all knew Grindad was a kind and loving man. As my heels dug into the dry dirt and crunchy grass, and the wind once again masked Bill’s story-telling, I thought of the last time I saw Grindad in the nursing home a few weeks earlier. I had followed my mother-in-law and husband through the straight, carpeted corridors toward Grindad’s room located on the left wall directly after we had made a right turn in the corridor. “Knock, knock!” my mother-in-law said, in a hushed voice. We entered the room, and Grindad greeted us while we hugged him and stood near the bed. I bent down to hug him, and he took my hand and brought it up to his lips for a small kiss.
He reminds me of my grandfather on my dad’s side, who would always say, “Look at you…you’re just beautiful!”
Bill’s voice drifted back. “…And here’s the pocket watch he found while he was in the war in Germany. I’ll pass it around so you all can see.”
Bill said a few more words, and we applauded him for sharing the memories. My uncle-in-law, Tommy, got up to say a few last words about his dad after thanking Bill for the stories. Tommy explained that Grindad used to wear suspenders every day to work, despite the fact that his pants were already held up by a supportive belt. “I think we should pay tribute to Dad and take a few pictures with suspenders,” Tommy said, swallowing the emotion in his voice.
It’s funny how members of the family turn out dramatically different, yet still somewhat similar. My mother-in-law, who is more tuned with nice suits and ties, had given in to her younger brother’s idea the night before. As all the boys fumbled with the suspenders and helped each other fasten the bouncy elastic to their belt-lines, I helicoptered around them, simultaneously snapping photos for fear of losing the memory.
I’m sure Grindad must have been all grins seeing his boys (his brother, son, sons-in-law, and grandsons) wearing those suspenders just like he had years ago.
We all did what he would have wanted; we met and caught up with family under the tree, said our goodbyes to those staying in the town, and then went back home to spend the rest of the night together as a family.
The next morning, I went with my mother-in-law to pick up the Mexican food we would bring back home for lunch before my husband and I had to go back to San Antonio. As my mother-in-law talked to me from the black leather driver’s seat of her silver Jetta, every so often sipping her Diet Coke wrapped in a napkin and placing it back in the cup holder, I stared out at the expansive, misty sky through the rain-speckled windshield. It was beautiful…just like a sign that Grindad was doing just fine.