First of all, I’m going to tell you that Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I’ve mentioned the whole… affinity to food and all in the past. And, well, the entire holiday is built around giving thanks, and then stuffing yourself silly. I am all for that!
However, despite this natural like to the holiday, I (like most everyone, I suppose) have one that sticks out in my memory above all others. It is not one from when I was a child, but one that was just last year in 2009. Not because of anything funny, either, so this is one of my more serious posts.
I’ll start from the beginning:
See, most years, we spend Thanksgiving and New Year’s at my mother-in-law’s house, and we spend Christmas with my family. My family lives farther away, so it’s easier on all of us to go up there on the longer break so we have more time to travel. The rest of my family, however, still gathered at either my mother’s or my grandmother’s house every year. Last year was the year to spend at my mother’s house.
I got a phone call about a week before the holiday. “Your grandparents won’t come unless you do. They say that they’re too tired to make the trip, but that they’d come if they get to see the kids.” My kids, their great-grandchildren.
So we switched plans – despite the fact that my mother was rather disgruntled that she wouldn’t get them for Christmas (it’s not fair to Abuelita, the other grandma, for my mother to have them for both big holidays), we were able to shuffle things around rather easily. My mother’s house for Thanksgiving and New Year’s, and my in-law’s house for Christmas. (Abuelita was super excited to get the kids for Christmas, finally, too!)
Since we were going, my grandparents decided to go. My great-aunt drove the whole way, and my grandparents looked very tired when they arrived. They all did, but my grandmother called the kiddos over and gave them their Christmas presents a little early – some soft Gund bears and some story books – and then sat with them in an adorable scene that I wished I’d gotten a picture of, reading to them. My grandfather sat in the background a bit, just watching the scene like I did. My other grandmother was also there, mostly just watching.
Thanksgiving went as Thanksgivings go – something of chaos when getting all of the food prepared, everyone seated, things dished out… as always, it was great food. My mother, great aunt, father and grandfather create mouth-watering dishes in the kitchen every single day they step in. My grandfather wasn’t really able to help so much this time, but he did get to watch and “hrumph” to his heart’s content.
Ahh, but that was the morning and noon. In the afternoon, my grandfather fell.
He was hurting pretty badly, but we couldn’t get him to go to the hospital. Even I couldn’t do it, and I could do no wrong in his eyes, ever. (He got himself in trouble, more than once, when I was growing up by defending me when I had been naughty.) So we put him in my grandmother’s wheelchair, and after much prodding and convincing, he told us that it made him feel a little better. We decided to let it go, and went through the rest of the day just enjoying family, naps, and vegging.
My grandparents left the next day for home, and we left on Saturday. Overall, the holiday wasn’t too bad, despite the unexpected change in plans that brought it about.
It was the last time I ever saw my grandfather alive.
The fall had caused some bone shards to implant themselves into his back, creating puss pockets. He had broken his hip the year before, which likely aided in the unexpected complication. No one told me about the upcoming surgery to remove them until the day that it was happening – I wasn’t happy about that. No one had told me that he picked up the phone and called 9-1-1 because he hurt so badly one day – I wasn’t happy about that, either. My grandfather was a very strong man, he never complained about pain. For him to call 9-1-1 was a very big deal.
The surgery went well, though. He had gotten through the surgery, he was stable, and everything was supposed to be fine. He had recovery to go through, but he’d done all of that before. Nothing to worry about. Everyone relaxed a little bit knowing that he was stable. I believe that my great aunt (his sister) and my grandmother even went home to get some rest, leaving him asleep. They never expected their next phone call to be from the hospital, saying that he was gone. None of us did. This was just a few days before Christmas.
We dropped our children off at my mother-in-law’s house, because a funeral with several surprised and broken people was not the place for two five year olds, and we went to Albuquerque. It was a very somber holiday, but I think all of us were glad that we weren’t alone. I got to hear stories about my grandfather that I will never forget (including some from World War II and his time in the Air Force), and I got to spend some unexpected time with my family.
I sang at my grandfather’s funeral – two songs that I broke in the middle of, but I didn’t care. I didn’t break completely until the soldiers began playing TAPS at the National Cemetary in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the flag was handed to my grandmother.
I am told that I was my grandfather’s world. That the moment I was born, his entire world began to revolve around me. That I softened his heart, and turned him into the very gentle man that I knew who would sneak me ice cream when I wasn’t supposed to have any, as opposed to the man he was before I was born. I still cry for him – I miss him dearly.
Skillet puts out a song called One Day Too Late where it asks, “Will Tomorrow Be Too Late?” within the first few lines of the song. In this case, it would have been too late. Had I decided to not go to my parents’ and keep my original plans to see them come Christmas, I would have missed spending that all too precious last holiday with my grandfather. It would have been too late.
Rest In Peace
Merlyn D. Underwood
You are missed. I look forward to seeing you again.