I got the call last night that my Grandpa isn’t expected to live more than a few hours—no more than a week–longer. This is my maternal Grandpa John born December 4, 1937. He was raised by his maternal grandparents, Daniel and Alice. At twenty-five, he married my fifteen year old Grandma, Shirley. This is 1962. He fought in the Korean War but a fire in Kentucky robbed him of his VA dues for his old age. Over the next 19 years he and Grandma would have four girls—two whom died shortly after birth–and two sons. They named their children Clara (my mom), Johnny, Jerry, Shirley (dead), Sherry, and Rebecca (dead and my namesake). They have thirteen grandchildren with an age range of twenty-one years.
He was a coal miner and sometimes worked in the lumber industry. He moved his family around the country like nomads before settling in North Carolina in 1981. There, Rebecca was born and died and my mom married. As oldest grandchild, I was his favorite. For about a year, my brother and I lived on a tobacco farm with our grandparents, uncles, and aunt. Once I came home from first grade and found the hog hanging upside with his head missing. Grandpa shot him three times between the eyes before he kill him. Another time I watched my Grandpa shove his arm into a cow to turn her calf that was in the breech position. Grandpa always deferred to Grandma and she ran things.
My grandpa had this blue velvet chair that he liked to sit in to watch Hee-Haw back when I was a kid. They moved away and I have not seen my grandparents much over the last 19 years. When I saw them again, I realized how short he had become. The man I remembered being so tall and mighty was just a short, old man. He had always been bald as long as I’ve been alive—Grandma only has one photo of him with his black hair and it’s black and white—and his forehead deeply wrinkled. But now his hands shook and he smiled toothlessly when he talked to me about this turkey farm he worked on once.
Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s have stolen away his unspoken memories and his speech. He shakes violently, breaking his chairs and he cannot take care of himself any longer. His old house was exactly 56 miles from my driveway to his. I came and visited for school projects and somewhere I have Grandpa on camera shaking and just staring into the camera. He can no longer smile. And then last night I got the call that he’ll be gone soon. This man that is the child of my favorite great-grandma Francis Wirth. Whom I recall having a bad nightmare when I was a kid, dreaming of his mother calling out for him. It ruined his whole day. My mom still calls him Daddy. She loves him best along with my brother.
He’s someone I don’t know very well. But he’s my grandpa and I absolutely hate that he no longer knows anyone is beside him. Aunt Sherry said Grandma is sitting next to his bed, holding his hand, and neither does she acknowledge the world. She stares at him, waiting and watching. This is their 47th year of life together and soon it will end.
The waiting is terrible.