Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Rest In Peace, Grandpa Joe

The last of my grandparents passed away peacefully in his sleep in a western Nebraska nursing home early last evening while I was at the sold-out Pavement show here in Austin. It was an exceedingly strange day. My wife spent three hours on lockdown at her work near the University of Texas campus because a ski-masked 19-year-old math major took an AK-47 to campus, fired several rounds into the air and the ground, and then shot himself in the stairwell of the sixth floor of the Perry-Castaneda Library. I was fortunately unaware of the situation until it was over because I was substitute teaching a Chinese class for some of the worst students I'd ever encountered. Security had to come in and pat down each student and look through each bag because an iPod and charger were stolen during the class. The classroom teacher left me with only enough work to fill fifteen minutes of three 100-minute classes, so I had a horrible combination of out-of-control kids with nothing to do. I had to guard the window so they wouldn't jump out. Fortunately, they liked me better than the other substitutes and school officials who occasionally came in to help me out. They bore the brunt of the abuse. I was very pleased by the Pavement concert, though I was again denied a live take on "Half a Canyon," my favorite Pavement song. (In their defense, the song would be a bitch to pull off.) It was disorienting to see a huge, sold-out show for a band I saw in tiny clubs during their pre-reunion existence, but they deserve it. I came home from the show to discover that my maternal grandfather had died. His death is a big marker of change in our family's history. The old generation is gone. My parents and aunts and uncles are slowly taking its place, while my siblings and cousins and I move slowly toward middle age. My cousins have been procreating like mad, so the youth are well represented, and a handful are turning into adolescents. This is the way things work. It's not a tragedy, but it is sad to see time move past and people go away for good.
I spent the majority of my elementary school Saturday afternoons watching professional wrestling and old movies with my grandfather. I was much closer to his wife, my grandmother, who died two years ago, but Grandpa Joe was a warm guy who loved his grandkids and had a hard time reconciling his personal failings and mistakes and sometimes strained relationships with his children with the guy he was later. He drove across most of the country and parts of Mexico and Canada as a truck driver, and a map of the continent hanging up in the hallway of his trailer was thick with pushpins indicating places he'd worked. When my sister moved to Wisconsin a few years ago, he mentioned driving a shipment of frozen rabbits to a rural Wisconsin mink farm. By the time he'd arrive, some of the rabbits had thawed, and the stench was apparently ungodly. Once the rabbits had been deposited, he picked up cases of Schlitz to deliver to Nebraska liquor stores. My last substantial memory of my grandfather is watching Mr. Smith Goes to Washington with him and my wife two Christmases ago. It was the first Christmas without my grandmother, and I had a hard time sitting on that couch knowing that she wasn't in that physical space anymore and wouldn't be again.
My grandfather's death yesterday was the period on a sentence that began on New Year's Eve, 1995, when my paternal grandfather died. I have some tools now to cope with and understand my parents' eventual deaths, and my own, but I can wait a while, a long while, for these other sentences to start.

Coincidentally, the song that will open and close my grandfather's funeral (which, as usual, I won't be able to attend for financial/educational reasons), has been posted on YouTube by a user named "papajoesvideos."


milk and cake said...

i'm sorry about your grandpa. and you know, even though i "know" intellectually that deaths in families happen, that families change and i won't always be the kid (but become a mom, aunt and grandmom), it still sometimes shocks me. it feels weird to go through those phases, and never mind how ready i think i am, it throws me. no matter how great a life someone has had, no matter how normal and natural death might be, i'm still not great at dealing it. i guess i'm going to have to learn how to be okay that too.

also, were the kids or the coursework chinese?!

Dr. Mystery said...


The coursework was Chinese, not the kids.