Once upon a hot Oklahoma summer, I was a sixteen year old girl. With my license freshly tucked into the plastic pocket of my wallet, and keys gently dangling from my Lion King key chain, I raced through the door of independence without hesitating to look back. Unfortunately, my journey wasn’t as smooth as my invincible mind had anticipated. As a teenager, navigating the new terrain of pumping ones own gas, and ordering their first drive through big mac, it’s only a matter of time before a “learning opportunity” presents itself. For me, it was in a small yogurt shop in Tulsa.
My naiveté preceded me, as I pulled my four door black Saturn into the parking lot of the local TCBY one day after school. Summer was approaching and the crisp air combined with the warmth of the sun was the perfect equation for a giant mound of ice cream plopped onto a sweet and crunchy waffle cone. As I walked into the shop, I saw that I was not the only one who was craving a cold treat that afternoon, as the line was quite long with people. I decided my urge was strong enough to wait out the line, so I stayed. As I made my order and approached the cash register, the cashier told me the total of my purchase. I laid my keys down, dug through my purse, only to realize that my wallet was left at home in my bedroom.
So, there I stood, staring at my dripping cone awaiting to be devoured, while the cashier’s hand was awkwardly awaiting my payment. I looked at my cone, then back at the cashier, then back at my cone, all while fighting back my embarrassment. I looked toward the line of people behind me glaring as I stalled, digging through my empty purse, knowing only a few pennies were settled in the bottom. Above the heavy silence I heard the door ding behind me. I pulled my red face from my purse and turned to see the silhouette of my savior in the door, my grandpa.
“PA!!” I said, as he walked through the door, “I forgot my wallet, will you please pay for my cone?!”
“Of course I will”, he said as he pulled out his wallet and handed the cashier a five dollar bill.
He went on to order his own spring treat and together we ate our ice cream on the patio of the store front, laughing about the coincidence that we had just witnessed.
I know now that it was a moment set up by God, giving me a sweet memory of my grandpa and since then I have tucked it deep into the crevasses of my heart.
My grandpa was a tall southern man, smelling of freshly printed newspapers and Aramis cologne. His long Mississippi draw could be distinguished in a room full of Okies. Always requiring me to use proper grammar and never allowing me to chew gum, his standards were high but tempered with a sweet gentleness that came with age. My memories of him are played to the soundtrack of deep laughter and sweet music; games of rummy around the kitchen table, dances around the living room to the simple tune of a music box and the thick moist air of his shaded backyard where we would swing higher, higher and higher; for he was the best pusher that ever did live.
My grandpa walked me to my first park, took me to my first football game, and insisted, as a woman, I receive my own education. In middle school he drove me to Yellowstone, walked me down Times Square and held my hand through the Lincoln Memorial, to show me the vastness of what is America. But, all of these memories do not compare to his example of love. His love for God, and love for people was contagious and lasting, seeing every man and woman as equal.
My grandfather passed away yesterday, ending his battle with Alzheimer’s, which lasted nearly a decade. In Patty Davis’ book, the “Long Goodbye” she writes about loosing her father, Ronald Reagan to the same debilitating disease. She wrote, “Alzheimer’s disease snips away at the threads, a slow unraveling, a steady retreat; as a witness all you can do is watch, cry, and whisper a soft stream of goodbyes”. This so poignantly describes the process of grief we have experienced on this journey, the disease has snipped at the threads of my grandpa’s life, but Sunday morning, at 11:30 am, the final thread was snipped and he was released from the bondage of dementia and into his heavenly body, free from pain, confusion, and agony.
While we gather here, and drink the bittersweet cup of closure and heartbreak, he was welcomed by a host of heavenlies waiting for his arrival. Leonardo Da Vinci once said, “As a well spent day brings happy sleep, so a life well spent brings happy death.” In this moment of death and of loss I cannot smother my joy for HIM, for Pa, he has been made whole once more, and he is experiencing a fullness that was robbed from him for far too long. I reflect on my memory of him, and the legacy he has left and happiness overwhelms me because his was a life well spent.