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Entry date: 6-25-2022 - Humble Tom - Letters to My Friends

Dear Friends,

Today would have been his birthday. I'm ashamed to say that I had to do a little research to figure out that he would have been 97 years old today.

When I wrote about the fondness my grandfather, Tom, had for Teresa, I was unprepared for how it was going to make me feel. I sat here for a bit thinking about that last conversation we had. I used to run through it, after he died, for a long time and try to remember everything he said to me.

The brain is weird that way. I don’t get it. I know somewhere in the folds inside my head, that whole conversation is stored but I can’t access very much of it anymore except basic details. I know we talked a lot about Teresa. That was probably his favorite topic near the end. I love how much he loved her. I wish that I could share that with her in a way that would make it meaningful to her. Maybe this will help someday.

By that time, I was calling him “Gramps” most of the time. He was “Papa” and “Grandpa” during our time together and then, for some reason, “Gramps.” I don’t have a rhyme or reason for it. I know I’ve talked about him before in this blog and I will at least a few more times, I’m sure. He was my guy, though. I was a very lucky kid growing up because I had a great dad and two awesome grandfathers.

I was closest to Grandpa Tom, though, because we spent so much time together. When he died in February of 2007, I was not nearly as prepared for what it was going to feel like as I thought I was. I knew, for example, on that last day with him that I wasn’t going to get many more conversations, but I hoped to have at least a few.

He was tired. He’d put up an amazing fight for so long. Paraplegics just don’t last as long as he did, which was over sixty years in his chair. That’s unheard of, really, and they (being Veteran’s Administration) medical folks would often try to figure out how he did it. I was spoiled to have almost 40 years with him.

The pain I felt when my mom called me was devastating. All I could do was just sob for a while, but I eventually collected myself and went down to the VA nursing home on 7th street and Indian School where he spent the last few years of his life and saw him one last time. It was surreal, to say the least, and it was something I am glad I did. It helped.

I was tasked with delivering a eulogy. That was difficult, too, and I think I’ve mentioned it here before. Maybe I will post it here one day. I don’t know, though. I have only allowed myself to read it maybe one more time since his funeral.

I used to go by the cemetery and sit with him every once in a while, but I haven’t since before Covid. I never got the comfort from those visits I hoped they would bring. I still talk to him a lot and wish I could hear his voice talking back to me. When times are tough, I know he would have the right thing to say that would help me see things from the angle I need to see them.

That was one of the gifts he had. He could help you see things from a different perspective when you needed to open your eyes a little wider or consider another angle. My grandfather was deeply empathetic. I don’t know if that was something that he learned after his accident or if he was always that way. I think he taught me a lot about how to stop and think about how someone else might be feeling. I wish I could say that was always a natural gift I had, but it wasn’t.

During that last conversation, I wanted so badly to tell him about Liam. Rhondi and I had just found out about him a few weeks prior to Gramps’ death, and we hadn’t told anyone yet. I’ve always wished that I could have told him. I do remember sitting there and wanting to blurt it out, but I was concerned that it would just make him worry about how we were going to pull off having another baby. I know he was concerned about how we often just squeaked by.

If there is an afterlife, then he knows. He would have loved Liam. I’m sure, again, if there is an afterlife, he is endlessly entertained by all the kids, but especially Liam. He would surely have admired Liam’s quick confidence and expertise in everything. I’m glad that Liam has Rhondi’s dad, Doug, to be a similar role model in his life and my dad has turned out to be a pretty great grandpa, too.

I thank both of my grandfathers a lot when I talk to them. I hope I can be for Skylar and all future grandchildren what they were to me. I feel like it is a small way I can thank them by keeping their traditions going.

Gramps used to make up fantastic stories for me when he would drive me to school. I may have mentioned that he called me “Humble Tom” when I was a boy, and he would tell me stories of great adventures “Humble Tom” would have. “Humble Tom” had his pie, too, and that was where he would get whatever tools or gadgets he would need on his adventures.

It makes me smile to think about those days, driving over to Madison Heights or Simis or Meadows. Even as I got older, I would still occasionally ask him what “Humble Tom” was up to. To have a recording of some of those stories would be great, but those are gifts I can only offer up to the universe at this point. They are part of the fabric of my world and made me who I am. I am now roughly the age my grandfather was when he was telling me these tales. It is my turn to tell them now.

Happy birthday, Papa. I miss you every damn day.

I wish I could see you tomorrow.

This is my grandfather from the day Shannon and I got married. It was the easiest picture for me to find online. He was the best.

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