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Happy Birthday Old Man

June 3, 2010

There have been a lot of birthdays in my peripheral life lately, Two of my Blogher ’10 roomies, Beth Anne and Mandy had birthdays this week.

But today, June 3rd is my Grandpa Joe’s birthday. He would have been 97.

He was fucking awesome.

He was an amazingly important influence on my life, even though he died when I was 17. Piper Josephine was given her middle name in his honor, and frankly it was 50/50 whether she was going to be a Josie or a Piper up until she was born and I actually met her.

When I was growing up in a tiny town in northern Michigan my Grandpa and his second wife (who I didn’t actually know wasn’t technically my Grandma until I was about 7 or 8 years old) lived in our same teensy town, in fact they were pretty much the reason we lived there. My Grandpa built a little house on the lake in the 1940s, when his wife and kids used to “summer” there and he drove up every weekend from Kalamazoo. By the time I came along, the joint had been “winterized” and Grandma and Grandpa lived there all the time. It was still on a lake.


That’s Grandpa and I’m on the left with my sunglasses on upside down. No he was not going to throw me and what I think is my cousin Julie into the lake fully clothed. We were going on a boat ride, hence the lifejackets. SAFETY FIRST PEOPLE.

Remember how I said he was fucking awesome?


My dad on the right, obviously also very excited about the kick ass turkey.

He loved jokes, especially dirty ones. His collection of booze themed cartoons snipped from the newspaper remains protected on the inside of the liquor cabinet door in the kitchen of what is now my Dad’s lake house. He loved jazz, his favorite instrument was the clarinet (I played one in middle school for that reason) and he sang whenever possible. He also loved explosives of all types. He frequently carried cherry bombs around in his coat pocket and would light them from the bowl of his pipe whenever he felt it was appropriate. He had a wonderful voice, like warm molasses poured over gravel, wrapped in smoke.

Speaking of smoke.

In almost every memory I have of him speaking to me he is talking around the stem of a pipe. The big table inside his kitchen door was covered in pipe tobacco and paraphenalia. He used to bring me bags of pipe cleaners to make crafts with. It was years after he died before the house didn’t constantly smell like tobacco to me. Last time we were there when I was pregnant with Piper, I could still smell it sometimes in the kitchen. He died in 1996.

If you’re pointing at the screen saying “Why the hell didn’t she crop this photo?” or “ZOMG ghosts!” my responses are “I meant to not crop it” and “I’m not sure we can be friends anymore because you’re 7” respectively. It’s smoke. From the ever present pipe.

It dissipated after a while.

When we left the house after a visit, we made silly faces at each other as we drove away. When he tried to take my parents out for a nice grown up dinner I always got mad because I couldn’t go with. He always let me order the fried shrimp.


That’s my mom on the left. Hotness right? Also, hey Mom! That’s the quilt dress we were talking about the other day that I loved and that you don’t remember. Remember?

He never in my whole life was ever anything less than absolutely and wholeheartedly delighted to see me. Even right before he died.

I’ve never been loved by anyone quite the way I was loved by him, before or since. It wasn’t just unconditional love, the man got palpable joy out of my very existence. All I had to do was show up and I had made his day. It was the least complicated and in some ways the most inspiring relationship I’ve ever been a part of. He asked nothing of me, but made me want to give everything.

This Summer after Blogher we’re headed up to the lake and Piper will wear a much more stylish if uncomfortable looking lifejacket for her boat rides. I’ll show her where to hide her sandcastle shovels under the marble slab above the beach that we keep the towels on, and how to walk on the dock without getting splinters in her tiny feet, and I’ll blow bubbles in the water when I swim, pretending to be a sea monster while she rides on my back just like he did. And I’ll pray that she gets to experience an uncomplicated and generous love like the kind he gave me.

Happy Birthday “Old Man”. I still miss you. Every day.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. June 3, 2010 9:59 pm

    Wow, Mae. This made me tear up and laugh and miss my own grandpa so very much. Minus the pipe & singing, he sounds a lot like yours – especially the part about them being freaking awesome men.

    Happy birthday to your grandpa. Maybe my grandpa will mosey his way today for me, and they can trade dirty jokes with each other.

    • June 4, 2010 6:56 pm

      Jen, wouldn’t that be cool? If blogging brought together the Dirty Joke Club – Old Dudes In Heaven chapter?

      I’m gonna just assume that that’s what’s happening right this moment. Because wow, way fun.

  2. June 3, 2010 10:25 pm

    this is incredibly sweet. you have such a talent for writing. i always love your entries…this is one of my top favorites.

    • January 3, 2015 11:39 am

      My hat is off to your astute command over this tovri-bcapo!

  3. June 4, 2010 7:06 am

    Like Jenny, this made me miss my Grandaddy. What a wonderful post.

  4. June 4, 2010 8:41 am

    Happy birthday to the old man. Grandparents like this are so special… I’m glad you had one. My heart aches with knowing how much I was loved by my Papa and how he would have loved my son. Oh, crap. Tears at work again. Dammit.

    Sweet post, Mae.

  5. June 4, 2010 3:18 pm

    Ahh that is so sweet. I know exactly what you mean in the way your grandpa loved you. That’s how it was with mine. He taught me how to type he got me into law. I lost him when I was 2 weeks from my 15th birthday. Ugh. Tugs at your heart strings and makes you wonder how much more they would have loved our little ones.

    • June 4, 2010 7:00 pm

      I know! Piper is lucky enough to have 5 surviving great grandparents and I love to watch her with Topher’s Dad’s parents who live the closest. She already has a special bond with her Great Grandma Janice and it makes me so happy that they have had this time to get to know each other. I know my Grandpa Joe would have adored her and thought the world of her.

  6. June 4, 2010 4:43 pm

    What a beautiful tribute to your grandfather. My grandparents had what appears to be an almost identical cottage on a lake in Upstate New York and all my absolute best childhood memories take place there – fishing, swimming, boating, Grandpa grilling corn on the cob and building me a swing. He’s still alive now but suffering from advanced stage Alzheimer’s, so I sometimes feel like I’ve lost him – and knowing he’s lost those memories too breaks my heart. I hope you have a wonderful time showing Piper the lake.

  7. June 4, 2010 7:33 pm

    Very touching, Mae. Every girl should have a grandfather like that. I did. He let me “drive” his truck and tractors when I was little, gave me a hug and kiss every time I saw him and passed away when I was pregnant, but before I had told him. The day my daughter was born, there was such a big hole because he wasn’t there to meet her. I hope that our daughters are lucky enough to feel that same kind of love.

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