You would have been 96 years old today. You wouldn’t have wanted to celebrate, but you probably would’ve wanted an extra dessert after dinner.
Last year, we celebrated your 95th and Dad’s 59th with a small party at Mom and Dad’s house in Virginia. What a special celebration that was: family, friends, memories, and many extra desserts.
I sat down to write you a couple of nights ago. It was pouring rain, and I had seen the storm coming in. I was standing outside of the grocery store; drops were falling. I wanted to be dancing in the storm. I should have danced in the storm. In the car—the car that you drove up until a few months ago, the car that still smells like you—Gillian Welch’s silky voice sang about peach trees and Mama’s wedding gown. Somewhere that night, there was a delicious bottle of Grüner Veltliner being passed around.
I want to dance in this rain.
I’m not dancing in this rain.
It’s summer, it’s raining, it’s North Carolina. It’s all these silky tunes and maybe, maybe, all I want are the people I lost this year.
A year ago today, I returned to the States after almost a year living in Sri Lanka. I remember wanting to touch ground on your 95th, knowing I’d be celebrating with you and seeing you as soon as I could after I landed. I was welcomed back by everyone I called home; it was one of the best homecomings I’ve ever had. You kissed my cheek when I greeted you and told me you were so glad that I was home.
I was in Ireland when you died a few weeks ago. I was in a pub in Cork, watching the U.S. get beat by Belgium in the last game we’d play in this World Cup. The morning after you died, I visited Blarney Castle and kissed the famous Blarney Stone. I spent the afternoon in the beautiful gardens surrounding the castle, breathing in the flowers and touching the trees. I sat under a huge oak tree for hours, relishing the peace and quiet of this tucked-away sanctuary in southern Ireland.
You died 5 days after your wife—my Grandmommy—did, 21 years ago. You died 2 days before what would have been your 68th wedding anniversary. You died 25 days before your 96th birthday. You died at home, in your own bed, with family around you. You died how you wanted to die.
What a rich and fulfilling life you led. 95 full years. You gave and provided so much. You loved and were so loved in return. And now, you’re reunited with the love of your life, after so many years of being apart.
I’m going to miss your stories, Granddaddy. I’m going to miss your laugh and your slightly off-kilter jokes. I’m going to miss how you held your cigarette while you were driving and how you took your hot tea with lemon: at IHOP, at Bob Evans, at Outback, at all the places we had our dinner dates and caught up over the years. I’m going to miss your advice about tires and courtship and love and the importance of hard work. I’m going to miss how you always called it “coca-COLA” and how you insisted I follow your fail-proof rinsing regiment when I washed your dishes. I’m going to miss your always capable hands. Hands that helped move your family into numerous homes over so many years; hands that fixed appliances older than I am; hands that traversed six continents; hands that held my face when I kissed you goodbye, and goodbye, and goodbye.
Your hands are home in Nebraska. Nebraska has you back now.
I read this at your burial service in Lincoln last weekend:
What if it rains the whole time you bury him?
The world buzzing with a dull roar, soft like suds
in your ears. You’ll wonder how to keep moving
when ninety-five years of life have just
stopped. You’ll watch the dew drip
down a single blade of grass on the family plot,
a tiny, spiraling snow globe holding the morning.
What if the sun breaks through the dark sky
the whole time you bury him? I’m ready
to be with the love of my life again, he said to you,
tears in his eyes and a cigarette dangling in his hand.
Ashes dropped to the ground, embers glowing
until the very end. In Wyuka, notice dandelion seeds
germinating according to the wind’s whims—
dust-inspired goodbyes, nature always taking back what it gives.
Remember these things when you leave Lincoln
for the first time, or for the last time,
traveling the battered highways
cracked, dry, and wanting. The late afternoon
sun will drip and rest easy on Nebraska’s hayfields—
hayfields he plowed, hayfields that are home to the bones
of so many who helped give you life—
and you’ll realize how some things fall so simply
and what it is to be laid down in the copper-colored earth.