Sunday, September 19, 2010

Wisconsin, Part II

Grandpa died on Monday, September 13, 2010, the day after he attended a birthday party for his brother-in-law, my beloved great-uncle Al. Earlier in the day he had been spotted in his golf cart, rolling down the gravel driveway to the mailbox. Later, he was found in the garage, his body still warm.

He was 101 years old.

Grandpa was a simple, h0nest, hard-working man. He read his Bible, he occasionally watched professional wrestling, he tamed wild cats, who would come running at his slightest, "Here, missy, missy." He could shake a dice like no one's business; it was uncanny how he always got the exact number he needed to send our marbles back to start. He was the gentler parent, the kindly grandparent who said goodbye with a quick smack on the lips.

When Grandma died (after surviving uterine and breast cancer, the bone cancer proved too mch) in 2002, we all wondered What Would Happen to Grandpa. Sometimes this was phrased as What Should We Do with Grandpa. But Granda didn't want anything done. He was content to live alone, travel the short distances between church and home, home and his sister's house, again and again. He gamely submitted to the long plane rides from Wisconsin to Arizona and Arizona to Californa to visit his sons. He refused any suggestion of going into a nursing home - instead, he took his vitamins and chose his steps carefully, perhaps knowing that he was one bad cold or one broken hip away from hospital care.

Dad, hearing about Grandpa's death, was consumed by the sort of guilt a son has for a parent who dies alone, far away. He tried to work out the time frame: What had Grandpa done that day? Had he been on his golf cart to get the mail? Had he eaten lunch, dinner? How long had he been lying on the ground in the garage, had he called for help? What if he had been found sooner?

But consider the alternatives, Dad. Someone sees or hears him collapse, rushes to his aide, performs CPR or other life-saving measures. Paramedics are dispatched, Grandpa is loaded onto a gurney, rushed to the emergency room in Manitowoc. Doctors examine him. Tubes are hooked up. Medications are ordered. A hospital stay is necessary; possibilities of long-term care are discussed at the foot of his bed.

No, Grandpa wouldn't have wanted any of that. It was best to go the way he did - simple, fast, a misstep that led to a fall, or his heart suddenly given out, having beaten longer than most other human hearts ever will.

We learned more details later. Grandpa was in the garage, sorting apples for the applesauce he made so often and ate every day. Had he made it back to the house, Grandpa would have washed the apples and settled down for an evening of peeling them, one by one, before placing them in a pot of boiling water. Or maybe it was a task for the next day; applesauce-making might have occupied several hours. When it was time, he would have walked down the ramp to his bedroom and begun his vocal twenty-minute evening prayer in German, names of his children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren popping up in English every so often.

After his funeral, we went back to the farmhouse, which bore marks of Grandpa at every turn. Each object was a relic from a different time - his magnifying glass and Bible on the table near the davenport, his recipe cards stacked on the kitchen counter, his closet hung with plaid shirts.

Out in the garage, we paused over the spot. Bushels of apples on the floor, gallon-sized buckets with sorted apples on his walker and on the garage counter. Dad and I spotted the newspaper at the same time - The Sheboygan Press, dateline Monday, September 13, 2010. Someone (Grandpa?) had placed a weight on top of the paper, so it wouldn't flutter away, caught by the slight breeze in the open garage door. "Well, now we know," Dad said. "He'd already picked up the paper."

There was nothing to say, so I squeezed him on the arm.

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