A Tribute to my Grandfather
In loving memory of Ralph Bishop Aye
Recently, I lost a person that meant a lot to me. And in losing him, it closed a chapter of my life that I was not really ready to close. And so this is a tribute to my grandfather, a man that will be missed very much by his 7 surviving children, numerous grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and a new crop of great-great-grandchildren.
When my first grandson was born, we took him to meet his great-great grandfather..Jake was the first of what will be a long line of great-great grandchildren and it saddens me that they will never get to know him. When he saw that baby the look on his face was something I will never forget. He held him and looked into his tiny eyes and you could feel the love he had for that tiny person. I never will be sure if he understood that it was my daughter’s baby and not mine, but I am sure that he knew that Jake was one of us! I saw it in his eyes. I have a five generation photo taken that day…Grandpa, my father, myself, my daughter, and her son. Not many families are lucky enough to have five generations but we are...on both sides of the family. I have a similar photo of my grandmother, my mother, myself, my daughter, and her son. And I cherish those photos and the memory of the last day we were all together. Before Grandpa got so ill that he didn’t always know his loved ones. And so ill that he forgot who had been to visit him. And so ill that all he wanted was to go home from the nursing home to die…a place where he spent the last few months of his life.
Even as little as two years ago, I could phone my grandpa and just say, "Hi, Grandpa!" when he came to the phone, and he would say, "Sara!" with such joy and pride in his voice that I was taken aback. I always marveled that out of 30 some grandchildren, he KNEW it was me. I was important enough to him that he recognized my voice.
I need this closure. I missed the Memorial Service. I live in a place where the weather can be very inhospitable at times, and at the time of the Memorial Service, the weather did it’s worst. Old man winter decreed that I should not drive the 500 miles to the Service, and I must deal with my loss here, without benefit of the service, and without benefit of watching his ashes sprinkled on their final resting place…setting him free to the wind and the land he loved so much. Sending him to my grandmother, who has been gone for a long time now and who he missed terribly. Sending him to Gene and Elvin, their two sons who preceded him and Grandma in early deaths, something that gave my grandpa the worst ache of his life. He always said, "You are not supposed to bury your children," a sentiment he repeated when we lost my nephew to a terrible accident nearly eight years ago, and again when my father's heart attack and triple bypass surgery made us fearful of losing him in 1995. He and Grandma were married for 64 years. 64 years…and endured 9 children, hard times, good times…and always shared a deep and abiding love that has been an inspiration to all of us.
When I was a child, I used to spend some time each summer with Grandma and Grandpa. And I remember being very small, I think about 6 years old, and having been tucked away upstairs in a room all alone in that HUGE house, (I know, all grandma’s houses are HUGE) I was afraid of the dark. And monsters. And burglars. And other various terrible things (I really can’t remember if the lion that lived in my closet at home had followed me the 75 miles to my grandparents’ house or not…Dad took care of HIM every night and kept him in his place). So I trucked down the stairs and crawled in bed with Grandma and Grandpa. Grandpa assured me there was nothing to be afraid of…in fact, he told me, I was better off upstairs than he was downstairs...because if there was anything that was going to get us…it was going to get him first! Well, in thinking that over, I decided to go back upstairs. If anything got Grandpa first, I would hear the ruckus and I could make my escape…Nothing did of course. And I spent many a happy summer day there. Then there was the garden…
Oh, that garden! I have never before or since seen a more glorious array of flowers. All kinds. All colors. Some, like the Bells of Ireland, I have never seen again. Some, like pansies, which have become my favorite flower, I see all the time. And all of them wonderful. The hot, steamy Kansas sun beat down and I would sit among the flowers for hours. Picking hollyhocks. Making hollyhock dolls (hey, all my cousins: did Grandma teach all of you to make those too?). Playing out scenes with the hollyhock dolls as if they were the fanciest Barbie doll and friends on the market…And having a childhood that no one can beat. And making memories that even now, 36 years later, make my heart sing.
The mulberry tree…now there was a place that every cousin I have talked to loved just as much as I did. We climbed that tree and sat among it’s branches eating the sweet fruit for hours. We (okay, I) ruined a brand-new outfit in that tree, the carefully appliqued pink butterfly with the stand-up wings my mother had sewed me turned to pink-with-purple-splotches. It didn’t come out. It wore traces of my favorite tree ever after.
Grandma made us mulberry pie. Grandma made us mulberry cobbler. Grandma inspired us all to be creative cooks. She had to be…she raised 9 children during the Depression. Those of us too young to have lived through those years will never understand what they went through then. What they lost. What they gained. Yes, gained…they gained a strength and faith from those years we all share now. We are better people because of all they went through. And I love them for it.
At Grandpa’s 95th Birthday Party and Family Reunion (said as if it were all one word!), he was making his way slowly toward the door of the Senior Citizen Center where the party was being held, his walker moving slowly forward one slow, hard step at a time, when my father put his hand on Grandpa’s arm and said, "Where are you going, Dad?"
To which Grandpa replied, "I’m going home."
Dad said, "But there’s no one there."
And grandpa’s retort was this, "There will be as soon as I get there."
He never lost that sense of humor, that spark of life…which he has passed on to us. Sometimes our humor is so dry that no one else gets our jokes…we don’t care. We get them. And we know that Grandpa would get them too. Because that’s part of the legacy he left us.
I remember also at Grandpa’s 95th Birthday Party and Family Reunion he looked around at all the family: brothers and sisters, aunt and uncles, cousins and babies and children, all drawn there together by a common bond, and said, "Look what I started!." He surely did. They did, he and Grandma together. And what they started is lasting. And in our families and the love we all share, this wonderful man lives on. In my parents. In Dad’s brothers and sisters. In their families. In me. In my children. And now in my children’s children. And I cannot think of any better tribute than that. I love you, Grandpa. Rest in peace. You done good.
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Content written on November 8, 1997, revised on October 26, 1999 ©Sara Aye Froehlich