Monday, December 12, 2005
One year ago today, my maternal grandfather, my Papou, died in my mom's home. Today, my mother, my cousin Ed and I trekked out to the cemetery, overly large grave blankets made of poinsettias and pine in tote. Ed hammered the blankets into the cold, frozen earth, while my mother and I stood silently behind, watching through teary eyes. We stood for a while, talking about the new baby on the way, I talked about Evan, Ed talked about Jessica, my mom cried. But I noticed how utterly inadequate headstones are.
Papou and my Nanny were buried in a Veteran's cemetery. Since he is a Veteran, his marker is set to certain standards. It simply allows for his name, date of birth and death, and beneath that it says "Korean War." But he was so much more than that...His life was more than just a Korean War veteran and a dash.
He was a husband, to my Nanny, Jemma. They were high school sweethearts, who married the week after she turned 18.
He was a father of two children, my mother Debbi, and my Uncle Ed.
He was a grandfather of six, myself, my cousins JohnPaul, Ed, Steve, Samantha and my sister Jemma.
He was a great grandfather to my godson, JohnPaul Jr -- I'll never forget the day he found out Evan and I were asked to be godparents. He chuckled and shook his head...."It's like All-State," he mused. "He'll be in good, good hands."
He was a professional basketball player. He toured Europe, playing all of Europe's olympic basketball teams. At 6'7" in his prime, he towered over his team mates and opponents.
He was a city councilman and then Mayor of our town.
He was the kindest soul I've ever encountered. Larger than life, he was a giant teddy bear, and loved his family dearly. He had a quick wit and a sharp tongue, and wasn't afraid to let anyone in the family be on the receiving end.
The summer before I married, Evan and I would sit over his house in the evening, and go through old photos. Old high school scrapbooks of his, old war memorabilia, photos and newspaper bits from his ball playing days. He'd run his fingertips over the pictures of my Nanny, gone sixteen years before him, and tell a funny story about how they met, or how the photo came to be so special. But, I guess when you don't have someone anymore, they all become special.
After Nanny died, Papou, my mom and I used to go to the cemetery every Sunday. Papou would lay flowers, and I'd leave something I had made in school, or a pretty shell I'd found at the beach, or a photo, and then we'd go to breakfast at a diner. And every Sunday, because Papou insisted on going at O'Dark Thirty in the morning, we'd see deer crossing the roads in the park leading to the cemetery. Papou always said that Nanny sent the deer to make us smile. Being eight at the time, I never thought to question it. It just made sense. Of course she did.
Today, as we were pulling into the cemetery, in the middle of the afternoon, two deer crossed in front of the car. One was quite possibly the biggest male deer I've ever seen, and a petite little doe walking beside him. We stopped the car and we all held our breath as the deer nuzzled one another, looked straight at us, wiggled their ears, and continued to walk on together towards the lake.
We didn't say anything about it until we were on our way home. Ed leaned forward in from the backseat and said "Do you think those deer were Nanny and Papou?" My mom reached over and squeezed my knee and I put my hand on hers.
No one answered Ed's question.
It was one of those kinds that the answer doesn't have to be spoken, you can just feel it inside.