My grandpa, Donald William Hemingway, died this past June. He was a great friend, and I miss him a lot. I talk about him whenever I get a chance, even if I’ve already told the story a hundred times. Telling it again makes me feel like he’s still around. Like he’s just been too busy picking up on younger women at his assisted living cafeteria to be at home for my phone calls, but one of these days he’ll answer.
I’ll catch him up on my dating life, my classes, concerts and movies, music I’ve been playing. He’ll praise everything I’ve done, even the things I regret; he’ll believe I was always in the right. He’ll tell me how he wants to buy a motorcycle because his jazzy doesn’t have enough power, and it tips over sometimes going up hills. When he says he’s missed my cooking, I’ll pretend I misheard and say, “What was that? It sounded like you said you’ve missed my company.” When he catches on to my tease, we’ll have a good laugh.
My grandpa ate ice cream every day, twice a day. When you’re 92, it doesn’t matter if you’re diabetic and have high blood pressure. You get to do what you want, even if that means going out in a diabetic coma (he didn’t). When I took him grocery shopping, he’d always buy me a treat and fill my car with gas. Then, when we got home, the carton of ice cream we bought would have melted to just the perfect softness. Before putting it away, we’d open it and skim a spoonful off the top.
My grandpa thought everything about me was fabulous. Once I was practicing a song on his piano for voice lessons, and I knew it needed a lot of work, so I asked him not to listen. I didn’t think it would be too hard, considering he sometimes couldn’t hear me from a few feet away. But as I began singing Boston by Augustana, he kept calling in from the kitchen, “Beautiful! Beautiful! It sounds wonderful!” I called back, “Grandpa, you’re not supposed to be listening; how can you even hear this, anyway?” And he called in, “I can’t shut my ears to beautiful music!”
He was like that. Blindly praising everything his grandkids did. My cousin Don was in a play just before starting medical school, and my grandpa couldn’t understand why Don would waste his life in medicine when he clearly belonged on the stage.
I’ll be writing more about my grandpa. He was wonderful, and I’m sorry for all of you who will never get to hear him call boogie woogie the devil’s music or ask you to make sure you put up the cripple sticker so you can park close to the grocery store. Telling his stories, though, makes me feel a bit better for all of us who are missing out on his company.