Goodbye, Grandpa

My grandfather, Jack Bosker, passed away this morning. He had been ailing, to various degrees, for most of my life, and ever increasingly so in the last few years, so this wasn't entirely unexpected, but it was sudden. My grandpa was my favorite person. I miss him terribly.

The last time we spoke was Saturday afternoon, 4 days ago. Looking back it seems obvious he knew his time was drawing short, based on the conversation we had. I wish I'd realized it at the time so I would have said more to him about how much he'd meant to me over the course of my life; or even just to drag the conversation out a little longer. We ended the call with me telling him I planned on coming down to visit—my unspoken understanding being for the final time—in early September. (How vain our default assumption that we will have more time.)

When he called I was in the garage working on a woodworking project. I told him about it; he asked what else I'd built, so I gave him a run down, as well as some planned projects: a sword for my nephew, hair sticks for my sister, a couple other things. A couple weeks ago he bought a scroll saw and sent it to me; he asked if I was using it. I hadn't yet—I've never used one, and am not really sure how to do so properly, though I have a couple things in mind—but I lied and said I had because I knew he wanted to hear that.

He said he was glad to see that I loved woodworking, that he was glad he'd given me something. "Stretch, did I help you with that?" I assured him he had. God, I wish I'd caught on.

One of the earliest memories I have, maybe the earliest memory, is grandpa and grandma taking me on a mini-vacation. We stayed in a hotel and went swimming, and I rode around the pool on his back; in the hotel room we watched some bad sci-fi movie set on a space station. The next day we went to Boardwalk & Baseball, a now long-defunct amusement park in Haines City, FL (I just looked it up, and the park closed in January 1990, so I was 4 at the oldest). We rode a log flume, and grandma got soaked on the final drop while grandpa and I escaped unharmed.

I remember going to the hardware store with him on Saturday mornings, listening to a local talk radio station (usually a show where people would call in with stuff they were looking to get rid of or were looking to buy secondhand) or old-school country music (Hank Williams, Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, Roy Rogers, Gene Autrey). Marty Robbins was the usual tape; to this day I know most of the words to "Pink Carnation" and "El Paso."

I have indistinct memories of flying kites in the fields near the local airport; of going to county fairs and the circus—usually the Clyde Beatty/Cole Brothers circus, which is headquartered in my hometown, but grandpa and grandma took me to the Ringling Brothers once, the only time I've ever seen their show; of fishing in the St. Johns River and various watering holes; of making beef jerky; of watching hot air balloons; of going to air shows at the local airport or Patrick Air Force Base.

He taught me to put ketchup on scrambled eggs, which I still do to this day. He put ungodly amounts of butter on bread. He would always almost immediately put whatever food he didn't think he was going to eat on your plate at restaurants, "for when the box comes." There were always snacks at grandma and grandpa's house, always popcorn, and usually klondike bars. There were many nights of playing hand after hand of rummy.

He started using something else in recent years, but I will always associate the smell of Old Spice aftershave with grandpa. He always had big sideburns, which is why I have had big sideburns from the time my body would generate them.

I remember the day they finished "the shed," the workshop/laundry room my grandparents built behind their house, where I would spend many, many hours helping him with various projects, or vice versa. It was here my love for do-it-yourselfing was developed and ingrained. There was nothing, to my mind, grandpa couldn't make or fix. He would playfully gripe if I used the good wood he was saving for something, or forgot to put a tool back, or got paint on the workbench, but he was always encouraging. My first shop tools were his hand-me-downs, when I was 18-19.

He was a Civil War history buff, and western film fan. I remember laying on the floor of my grandparents' living room, the AC on full blast (it's central Florida, that's the only way to keep nature from killing you), eating cheese sandwiches with my sisters and me trying to draw stuff from his Civil War books—maps, soldiers, guns—while John Wayne or Clint Eastwood cowboyed about. The last thing we ever did together, as an outing, was go to a showing of McClintock at a restored historic theater in downtown Deland, Florida. He fell asleep 20 minutes in.

My grandma and I have played a "game" called "lookie!" for as long as I remember. The object is to say, with chewed food in your mouth, "Lookie!," to the other person, without grandpa catching you. If you do this in a public place, so much the better. Grandpa was not a fan of it, which just made it all the more fun. Even at age 28.

He was not a healthy man (see the aforementioned butter and snacks). I first became aware of this around 5 or 6, whatever age you are in kindergarten, when I rode down to Florida from Lithonia, Georgia with mom in the middle of the night after he'd had a heart attack necessitating triple-bypass surgery. I doubt I understood the severity at the time, but I knew something was wrong with grandpa. He had diabetes, which as kids we just thought meant he had to take a shot every day. Sometimes he'd let us do the injection, like it was a fun thing instead of life-or-death medical treatment.

In the last few years he began an inexorable slide, physically and mentally. Beyond the heart/circulatory problems and diabetes, he developed dementia. Along with that came wild mood swings, never-before-seen angry outbursts, upsetting behavioral changes, memory loss. Dementia, beyond the medical terminology and biological goings on, is the death of the person you know and love while their body keeps going. It is awful.

He would call me Butch (my uncle's name) instead of Jonathan or Stretch. He would forget what was going on minutes later. He'd be in a good mood one minute and snapping at people the next. The last time I visited, back in May, I cleaned up his computer (again) and grandma said to me, "The man I married is gone."

Our memory is a fragile thing. We literally gradually destroy our remembrance of things and people by engaging it. I do not want to remember my grandpa as he was at the end, but rather all the good years we had. The kind, loving man who took care of his family and friends. The man who "spoiled" his grandkids "rotten." A good man. A strong man.

Goodbye, grandpa. I love you.