My Grandpa Art, God rest his soul, was a proud and sturdy Norwegian—a farmer from the plains of North Dakota. He passed away on this day in 2001. The terrorist attacks took place the following day, so traveling to his funeral was challenging for many.
When I think of my grandpa, the word epic comes to mind. His was a life that could easily inspire a Hollywood film. He was a true pioneer, whose youth was filled with adventures I can only imagine. When he was a wee boy of eight, his mother died and his father gave him to another family to raise because the children were too difficult to raise alone. He never learned how to read or write, but he was a highly successful farmer. He even rounded up wild mustangs and brought them home over the Canadian border. In his ninety-nine years he experienced four major wars, the Great Depression, and the dawn of a new Millenium. He saw the invention of electricity, the radio, the television, the telephone, the automobile, and the computer.
If I close my eyes and quiet my mind, I can still smell that strange combination of Juicy Fruit gum and Copenhagen snoose that Grandpa always had about him. Before a visit he always went to the Johnson store in teeny tiny Edmore and asked for “some yuucy fruit gum, and make damn sure it’s yuucy.”
I can feel his rough hands and weathered flannel shirt. I can see the angry scar on the back of his head. I can hear his laugh and picture him goofing around. And I can remember the songs he used to sing to me as a child while sitting on his lap, Eg Veit Ei Lita Jente, Miss Fogarty’s Christmas cake, and Come A Ty-ya Yippie Yi Yo. Once I was old enough to know better, I thought it was strange that a stoic Norseman sang a song called I’m a Swede from North Dakota, but I guess Art embraced diversity long before it was trendy.
He always had a joke. He the same ones year after year and I always thought they were funny. It was the way he told them and the joy they gave him that made me smile, not the words.
If I close my eyes, I can picture the farm: the crunch of the dry gravel, the cow pies, a clean house with buns baking in the oven. I can taste the ice cream treats that were always waiting for us kids in the deep freeze. I remember the scary bedroom upstairs and the sound the screen door made when it was slammed in a hurry. I can still feel the love in that home. I remember sitting around the kitchen table for hours playing Gin and Canasta. He always won… and for years I thought he was the luckiest card player in the world. Turns out he had a little sleight of hand. He was larger than life to me.
I came up to see him shortly before he passed away. Walking down the corridor of the nursing home I worried about how I would react when I saw him. I knew that he had changed a great deal since the last time we were together. But then he saw me in his doorway and he got that same old twinkle in his eye. He gave me a hug and a kiss and melted my heart once again.
His short-term memory was pretty shot the last time I saw him, but we reminisced about the past. I reminded him about a prank he’d played on me out at the farm and we laughed and laughed. I also cleared up the mystery of that scar on his head. He always told me he was in combat with an Indian who hit him with a tomahawk, but he finally confessed he’d been in a fight with his brother. It’s funny how things turn around… this time it was me singing the songs to him, but he still told the jokes. We talked about heaven, and the wonderful place being prepared for him. We talked about how we would be together there again someday.
When I was getting ready to leave for the seven-hour drive home, he said that maybe this summer he’d drive down to “Minaplis.” I always thought it was cute the way he pronounced Minneapolis. The last thing he ever said to me, as he kissed me goodbye was, “I love you.” Grandpa Art’s legacy will live on in my heart forever.
Until next time,