I have all these memories, I don’t know what for
I have them and I can’t help it

~ Sun Kil Moon, “Like the River”

George: That’s not your grandfather.
Paul: It is, you know.
George: But I’ve seen your grandfather. He lives in your house.
Paul: Oh, that’s my other grandfather, but he’s my grandfather, as well.
John: How do you reckon that one out?
Paul: Well, everyone’s entitled to two, aren’t they?”

~ The Beatles, “A Hard Day’s Night”

My friends will sometimes talk about their grandfathers as if they are gods. They’ll share stories of love and fun and good times. And I am always jealous.

I can barely remember either of my grandfathers. They both died when I was young and they both were sick for most of my life. I had Grandpa Ball (my mother’s father), simply called Grandpa, and Grandpa Edwards (my father’s father), always known as Gramps in our household. Whenever I hear stories told of these two men, I always feel a pride in the fact that I am related to them by blood. But I can barely remember them. And this breaks my heart.

As I’ve said, both men were sick for most of my life. I don’t think I ever saw Grandpa walk. The only time I ever saw Gramps walk was when he would walk from his chair to the kitchen every night to pour himself a bowl of cereal.

I remember my Gramps chair. I remember thinking it was a sin for anyone other than him to be sitting in it. I sat in it after he died, and immediately got up. I vaguely remember sitting on his lap when I was young, the smell of medicine and the touch of calloused hands.

I remember when I first heard Gramps life story. It was the life sung by the likes of Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams. It was the life of a working class hero. I remember hearing stories of a strong faith in God. I remember a quiet old man with a raspy voice. I remember a man who loved his family. The nativity story on Christmas morning. Grocery shopping on a hot summer’s day.

I remember the day Gramps died. And that’s the most vivid memory of all. Leaving school early. Arriving too late. Leaning on my father’s chest. Lifeless body on the bed. The bed I used to sleep in. Children crying in the backyard. Emotionless. Confused.

I cried at his funeral. All I have left are stories and vague memories.

Memories of Grandpa are even fewer. I don’t remember a time when he wasn’t sick. I remember a stupid knock knock joke I would tell him, and he would laugh every time. “Knock knock. Who’s there? Tommy. Tommy who? Tommy ache.” And he would laugh and laugh. I know that he loved me. I know I loved him. I remember my grandparents’ home up north in Roscommon. It was like a second home to me. He was sick every time we went.

I cried at his funeral. All I have left are stupid jokes and sickness.

I never said goodbye to either of them. I can barely even remember their voices.

It’s 4:30 in the morning right now and I am crying. I couldn’t sleep because the memory of these two men wouldn’t leave my mind. I barely knew them, yet I love them more than anybody that ever lived.

Sometimes I wonder why God would choose to taunt me with friends who tell me stories of their loving grandfathers. Sometimes I think God is the cruelest person in existence.

But then memories of these men come and haunt me. And I know that, though they are gone, they have made me a better person just by being there. And I know God wants me to celebrate what I had… what I have.

Maybe someday I’ll have children. I will tell them the memories I have of my grandfathers. I will tell my children they come from the two greatest men who ever lived.

Maybe someday I’ll have grandchildren and I will be a grandfather myself. And maybe my grandchildren will look up to me as a great man. Maybe someday they will want to be like me. That would be the greatest honor. And that is all I want.

5 Replies to “Grandfathers”

  1. Joel…This was a wonderful remembrance and you need to make sure you have a print copy to keep. While I only have memories of my mothers parents… my father grew up an orphan…I still have stories about my daddy’s parents, because stories were written about them. Family stories are very important…While I have never been one interested in genealogies, I have always loved a good story, possibly because I come from a family of story tellers…We always share the family stories when we get together and some become classics that are heard and retold over and over. The best stories are based on love like the one you just shared about your grandfathers.

  2. Hey Joel,

    I remenber your “Gramps” as a man with incredibly strong working class values of hard work and provision for his family, as well as a rack solid faith. I am so blessed to have known your family now for almost 40 years and to see the legacy that continues in your life and the lives of your parents, aunts, uncles and cousins is a testament to the course that your grandparents set many years ago to trust in the Almighty God.

    Thank you for sharing your memories and I know that one day you will be able to do all of those things you didn’t get to do with your grandfathers in this life in the life to come. Take care and keep your Dad in line (I know THAT’s a full-time job!)

    Greg Rice

  3. Joel…I share many of your feelings on this subject. Both of my grandfathers passed away by the time I had just turned 10, so I don’t recall much of their lives but the pain filled endings.

    Grandpa Parrish died in 1965 from a heart attack when I was 4 years old. He had been an alcoholic for a long time before he was saved and all I remember of him are two memories. Seeing him in the auditorium of Temple Baptist Church on Grand River Ave. on a Sunday morning as a child and sitting on his lap drinking some coffee out of a saucer. I can identify with the stories my mother has told me about him before he became a Christian and beat my grandmother, but I do remember the sweet old man that he became after he put his faith in Jesus Christ.

    Grandpa Atkinson dies on my fathers birthday in 1971 when I was just a couple months past my 10th birthday. All I remember of him is sickness and hardship caused from smoking and emphysema. However, I’m thankful that he was a good father that raised a son that kept his grandsons in church so that they all would become Christians too!

    I can recall a time when I had a big decision to make and it was hard to talk to my dad about the subject. How I wished I had a grandfather to take to and get to aged wisdom!! I didn’t have that but it all worked out anyway. My heavenly father was quite able to handle the situation for me!!

    We may not have had our grandfathers on this earth as long as we would have liked but I know that we will have them in the next reality for eternity!

  4. Joel,
    Well written, indeed. I never knew my own grandfathers either. One died too young and other left when mom was about 6 or so. Be of good cheer, God may redeem the days with the gift of a wonderful grandfather….in-law! as He did with me – Pax

  5. Joel,

    I’m just now getting to read this. Gramps loved you as he did all of his grandkids. Letting all of you sit in his lap and play with the pens in his pocket or his glasses made life fun for him. It was the same way when all of his kids were little. He had the patience of a saint and never let us rattle him (well, maybe your dad at times):) He is missed, and we can’t wait to be together again. I’m sure he is letting your brother Justin and your cousin Jenna sit in his lap right now.

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