In May, my grandfather Jimmy passed away. I knew him as Papah Jimmy, a handyman, auctioneer, tractor-driving farm owner, smoker, clock collector, beer-drinker and loving, stoic family man.
These are facts about my grandfather, which may help you picture him: He drove a pick-up truck. He lost most of the fingers on one hand in a paper mill accident long before I was born, a fact I often forgot before introducing him to people, which inevitably led to questions later. He was a Freemason, like his father before him. He repeatedly hosted summer pig roasts for his lodge, events that included rented bathrooms, tons of picnic food and dozens of cars parked all over the former cow field. He drank cheap beer, usually Miller High Life, and he salted it liberally. He salted everything. He listened to country singer Tom T. Hall, specifically songs like this and this.
He was also part of an inseparable family unit: Jimmy and Joanie. For my entire life, it was hard for people to differentiate the idea of him without my grandmother. I’ve heard stories about how fiery they were in there younger days, and I certainly heard them bicker. But I think of them as a pair, as so many of their friends and family did.
Thinking about my grandfather makes me nostalgic for my childhood weekends and summers spent at Jimmy and Joanie’s farmhouse, picking raspberries and catching fireflies. Days of tractor rides and nights gathered around my grandparents’ kitchen table, playing Uno with my siblings, cousin and grandparents. “These are the good ol’ days,” Joanie liked to say. She said that from the time I was a tiny kid through my college years, and she probably said it up until last fall, just before my grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer, when we were all blissfully spoiling their first great-grandchild (my niece).
And they were the good ol’ days! These are still good ol’ days for me, because even though I don’t have Jimmy in my life anymore, I’ve got these wonderful memories of being a child, running wild and knowing he was watching us from a distance, probably smoking a cigarette or drinking a beer, but loving the simple pleasures in his life.
I’m watching my grandmother grieve now. “I just don’t know if this will get any easier,” she said in her kitchen one day, not so long ago. She keeps forgetting to take her trash out, a task her husband handled for decades, and ends up calling my dad, complaining that her garbage cans are full. This woman who loved to eat and drink and force food upon her grandkids (that is one trait both my grandmothers shared!) now opts for crackers and soup, courtesy of a nervous stomach.
But as she goes through this process called grief, I’m learning from her. Learning how hard it is to lose someone you’ve been married to for 57 years; how you may have to force yourself to take help, even if you’re not sure you want it; how to keep some semblance of routine in your life when your “nutty buddy” isn’t by your side. She called him that sometimes. Jamesy. Jimmy. Papah.
And I’m reminded to cherish the time I’ve got with my husband and my family and to celebrate the good ol’ days. I think Jimmy would like that.