May 3 is always a tough day for me. It marks the passing of my best friend, my grandfather, my Grampy. He died on May 3, 2000 at the age of 86. I always knew he wasn't going to live forever, but sometimes I find myself still thinking he's only a car drive away.
He was born Dec. 18, 1913 I arrived 61 years later on Dec. 16, 1974. Maybe it was because our birthdays were two days apart, but our bond was immediate.
I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. My grandmother used to tell me that he wouldn't allow her to wash the windows after my departure because he loved looking at the dirty handprints I left behind.
My grandfather taught me how to water ski, even skiing tandem with me well into his 70's. He was a fireman, with strong hands I affectionately called "vice grips". He loved to create bonfires that we gathered around to cook hot dogs and marshmallows.
He was adamant that we wear life jackets even when it wasn't cool do to so in front of our friends.
When Gramps worked as a prison guard he would call up my grandmother up and sing, "Moon River" to woo her. He taught me how to dance in their living room, while singing their special song to me.
Every morning, when I lived with them in the summers at the lake, he sang, "Here she comes, Miss America!" despite my hair looking like I had just brushed it with a pillow. We shared many a breakfast together.
"You take a bite of eggs, a bite of toast and a bite of bacon, that's how you make it taste the best," he always said.
He loved watching Johnny Carson. I would stay up, my room facing out onto the living room. I lay on my belly with my hands holding my face and watched as the television light flashed and danced, illuminating his face with a bluish tinge. I would stifle my giggles as he laughed and laughed, unaware he had a voyeur.
Reader's Digest was his bible, and he often told off-the-cuff jokes that, as I got older, horrified me. He was a simple man, a product of the Great Depression. There wasn't a table or chair on the side of the road that he didn't still see the value in.
He "collected" various items and we visited many a flea market to gather treasures. My grandmother allowed him the attic and basement to store his junk. As a child I spent hours exploring the jars of nuts and bolts, boxes of old clothes, fishing poles, typewriters, board games, records, science equipment, license plates, keys and magazines. He kept everything. With his touch on it, each item felt a little magical. I used his treasures as props for the many stories I created in my head.
His favorite saying was, "A stranger is just a friend you haven't met yet."
He flirted with many a waitress, often decades younger, shook his head when someone cut him off. His blue eyes twinkled and his lips smirked, revealing his perfect teeth when he found something amusing. He read somewhere that he needed to brush his teeth for four minutes three times a day. Gramps might have been onto something because he managed to keep all his teeth intact.
Gramps hollered, "SLOW DOWN" at anyone who raced past on the road in front of our house, and got flustered if they flipped him off.
He was larger than life for me, but when I look back I realize how quiet he was. He was often tinkering in his garage alone, or sitting by the lake in a salvaged lawn chair, lost in his own thoughts.
I wonder now, what he was thinking.
On his deathbed, he was scared. He knew his time was up. I sat in the shadows as he said goodbye to my grandmother, his bride of nearly 60 years.
"I married the most beautiful girl in the world," he cried as he clasp her hand and looked into her eyes.
My grandmother bowed down towards him, shaking her head as her own tears fell.
My grandparents never owned a computer, never held a cell phone. They didn't need to email, text or be on the phone to stay in touch. They did it by being present.
They showed their love by their example and lived in the moment, appreciating everything they had.
We all have special people in our lives that make us feel a certain way, that make us feel as if we matter.
For me that was my Gramps.
I miss him terribly, but because of him I know what it feels like to be the most beautiful girl in the room with just a look.
Because of him I know love.