With the exception of my recent Vegas recap post, ever since the calendar changed from May to June I fell like I’ve just been calling it in when it comes to blogging and writing. I’m going through the motions and meeting my deadlines, but I feel like I’m running on auto-matic pilot. I have deadlines looming in the future, goals I want to tackle and a bunch of goodies I need to review, yet I feel like I can’t do any of that before I say this:
Two weeks ago my grandpa Frank passed away. He was 88.
Since I wasn’t able to attend his memorial service on Saturday, I thought I would say a few words here.
There’s two things I will always remember about my grandfather: he was a masterful storyteller and he wasn’t very fond of shirts in the summer time (photographic evidence supports this.)
My grandpa’s story began in 1925, in the small town of Aneroid, Saskatchewan, where he born to my great grandparents who had recently immigrated from Ternopil, Poland (a city which is now located in the Western part of the Ukraine.) He spent his childhood in Aneroid helping his family and playing hockey. When he reached his late teens, he enlisted in the service so that he join his brothers who were fighting in World War Two. When I asked my grandpa about his decision to join the army, he simply told me, “My brothers were going and I wanted to get away from the farm.” Sometime near the end of the war he met and fell in love with my grandma. He was 20, she was 17. They were married for 68 years.
After the war, my grandpa changed his Polish last name (which had more consonants than vowels), to something quintessentially Anglo-Canadian so that he could find work in the town where he and my grandmother settled. Soon after, he started a stucco and plastering business with his best friend. When the swimming pool and tiki culture craze hit in the 1950’s, my grandpa expanded his business and added building swimming pools to his resume. By the late 1960’s, my grandpa was running a wildly successful business building pools all over the Okanagan Valley.
The majority of my memories of my grandpa involve him sitting at the kitchen table, with a beer in hand, telling one of his infamous stories. What can I tell you about my grandpa’s stories other than they were epic? From growing up in rural Saskatchewan and his army adventures, to his tales about running his own business – my grandpa’s stories always involved a rotating cast of wacky characters, bizarre situations, interesting dialogue and sometimes, even a few unexpected dynamite explosions. People always tell me I have great stories, but it’s only because I learned from the best.
When my long-time (now ex) boyfriend met my extended family for the first time, my grandpa immediately recognized a captive audience. My ex spent the rest of the long weekend, sitting at that kitchen table, drinking beer, listening to my grandpa tell him every story in his repertoire. They bonded immediately and by the time Monday rolled around, my ex knew my grandpa’s complete life history. When I went to visit the following summer, the first (and only) question my grandpa asked me was: “Where’s Mike?” When I told him he wouldn’t be coming this time, he looked seriously dejected.
Storytelling abilities aside, my grandpa was still part of a generation where boys went off to fight wars, and masculinity was defined by back-breaking labour and a stiff upper lip. When life didn’t go as planned (as it often does), my grandpa would brood. As was the norm for many men of his era, he could be a bit gruff at times. Because of this, (and also because I suspect he just didn’t quite know what to say to girls) I was never super close to my grandpa. My grandpa never held my hand, or took me to the zoo, or even had a real conversation with me until I was in my teens. However, from the time we spent together as a family around that kitchen table I learned other things. I learned about the makings of a good story and how to time a punchline. I also learned a lot about my grandfather’s life. My grandpa loved and connected with us in the best way he knew how – by sharing stories of who he was and where we came from. For this I’ll always be grateful.
My grandpa was a man of many juxtapositions. He was a man who understood both Polish and Ukrainian, but loved the bagpipes and played in the local pipe band. A man with Frank Sinatra style good-looks, who always seemed more comfortable in his “uniform” – a pair of moccasins and one of his beloved 1970’s tracksuits worn with no shirt underneath. A man whose life took him to California, Mexico and all over the Caribbean, but who really seemed to light up when he was sitting in one place telling a story. An 88 year old man who still didn’t have a single grey hair when he died.
When I called my ex to tell him the news of my grandfather’s passing, he summed things up perfectly when he said the following:
“Your grandpa was a great guy and I loved meeting him. He had such great stories and I really admired his fearless entrepreneurial spirit. I feel like he passed a bit of both onto you.”
People who knew my grandpa have lovingly referred to him as a total “hard-ass” – which, wouldn’t be untrue. However, I prefer to remember him as a “bad-ass.” Decades before the words “start up” or “blog” were part of the popular lexicon, my grandpa forged his own path and built a very successful business from nothing other than his own blood, sweat and tears. If we are to believe the stories of my grandparent’s epic pool parties, the guy also knew how to party (and apparently operate a handgun?!) He was a little bit mischievous and had a wicked sense of humour – one that allowed him to laugh at the absurdity of holding a baby and a beer in the same hand. He’s also the guy who after a night of partying, convinced his friend who was the town sheriff, to take these photos just for kicks –
These are without a doubt, my favourite photos of my grandparents.
My grandpa narrated his own life from that kitchen table, and while doing so inspired me to do the same. He also taught me that sometimes all you need is some good company and a good yarn.
I wish I could have shared all this with him in person before he passed away. Instead, I take comfort in the fact that he’s hopefully out there somewhere taking this all in, downloading it from the great big iPad in the sky.
Grandpa, if you’re listening – you are loved and missed.