written April 21, 2013
seven years ago today I was living in Portland, Maine, on my way home from work when I got the news that, for the second time in four years, my grandfather had fallen off a roof. This time was worse, he was a lot higher, he was older (68 years old) and he fell to the pavement. I raced down I-495, and took the Mass Pike the rest of the way to Springfield, to Baystate Medical Center, where they had life-flighted him. Although I was pushing my Chevy Cavalier as fast as it would go, and didn’t so much as see a cop the entire drive… I got to the hospital about a half hour too late, they had put him in a medical induced coma because of the severity of his injuries. He fell off the roof just before suppertime on April 21, 2006, and died of pneumonia just over a month later, May 22, 2006. He was my role model, my mentor, my hero, and just as much of a father to me as my own father was. My grandparents never lived more than a ten minute drive away from us, and for a lot of years, were just across the street, and then in an in-law apartment attached to our house in Whatley. All of my earliest memories, my Poppy was there. The first time I went fishing, the first time I went hunting, my first baseball game, my first long road trip… and countless Sunday drives throughout southern Vermont with me and my brother. I am the person I am today, because of him, because of who he was. The way that I have come to view all people the same, all humanity as my brothers and sisters, the fact that I can’t walk past a homeless person without at least offering them a half hour of my time, leaving them knowing that I genuinely give a shit, that’s because of him. There were countless fishing trips that i would go on with him when we would stop in downtown Northampton to pick up a ‘fishing buddy’… a local homeless man, a local drunk, a local social outcast… black, white, brown, gay, straight,…drunk or sober, he was able to see the humanity in others, and share his time with anyone and everyone, through his love of fishing. He would go to church from time to time, to make my grandmother happy, but his god was the earth, was mother nature… his church was the water and the woods. For someone with perhaps the worst case of ADD I’ve ever seen, in his little aluminum fishing boat, time stood still. Listening to tapes of George Jones, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Buck Owens, (etc) he could sit still in a boat from before the sun came up, until long after it set, at peace the entire time. I wanted to throw in the towel on more fishing trips than I can count, going hours without so much as a bite, but he would assure me that ‘they’ll bite’… and more often than not, they always did. He grew up poor, went in the military at 16 and got to see the world, and got married very young. He was an alcoholic for a lot of years, until I was a year old in 1985… and he promised that he would make it up to my grandmother, he said he’d been selfish the first half of their marriage, and promised that she would always come first until the day that he died. He kept his promise, though fishing was always a close second and many might argue that he loved fishing more than he loved anything else, including her… but that’s not true. Fortunately, I never knew him when he drank. It’s not that he was violent or mean, but just that he was never there. He’d spend an entire day on a roof, and an entire night at City Cafe. He made up for it. I’ve never known anyone in my life who loved another person as much as my grandfather loved my grandmother. The love and respect and admiration that I have for women, and for the homeless, for the downtrodden, is because of him. I am the man that I am today, because of him. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him, and smile at all the good times we had. He was the most generous and selfless person I’ve ever known. Paying for vacations when we couldn’t afford it, giving us gas money when he really couldn’t afford to… and until he died, I never had to buy my own fishing and hunting license. All the piano lessons that my sister took as a kid, and the failed guitar lessons that I took, all the football camps that I went to,… anything that I ever needed, and most of what i ever wanted. He was an amazing human being, I am proud as hell that my brother, sister and I all inherited his work ethic and his heart of gold. Our family hasn’t been the same since he died. My life hasn’t been the same since he died. I wish I could have had another decade to learn all I could from him about life, and love, and generosity, but thats the way the world works. I am forever grateful for the time I did have with him, and that he lives on through me, my siblings, my cousins, my mother… my aunt and uncle. I am not afraid at the thought that, on the day that he died, he was gone forever. He’s not. Heaven or no heaven, reincarnation or not, afterlife or not, he lives on through my siblings, my cousins and me. Every time I do good, every time I help someone, every time I share my time with a homeless person or another social outcast, I am grateful that I am carrying on his spirit of love and kindness. It’s been seven years, but it really does feel like it was yesterday. Maybe that’s because he’s not gone, he lives on through me every single day of my life.