Wednesday, March 16, 2011


When I was talking to my mom over the weekend, she reminded me that it was my grandfather's birthday last Friday.  And in honor of his birthday, my grandmother cooked dinner for the family - a smorgasbord, as is her custom - on Saturday. 

I'm sure he would have loved it. 

I'm a bit embarassed to admit that I forgot his birthday, since he's the only grandfather I've ever known.  He didn't have more than an eighth-grade education, but he was smart as a whip, and, together with my grandmother, he ran a general store that put my mother and her four siblings through college.  And that entrepreneurial spirit never left him, because years after selling the business, he found himself running a makeshift "snack store" out of his mailroom office, with soda cans, chips and chocolate bars marked with Post-it notes that he would put into a book with a running tab for each of his colleagues.  And at every payday, he would make the rounds to collect.

My grandfather was very plain-spoken.  Perhaps...cantankerous at times.  But I always knew that family was so important to him.  Like when we needed a place to stay because our new home wasn't ready, my grandparents took us in for four months - nine people under one roof - because they knew that that's what family does for each other.  And I always knew how proud he was of me.  Looking back, I only wish that I had helped him more, even though I hated mowing his lawn, especially all the way up that steep incline that ran alongside their house.  Or picked more of those cherries from the tree in their backyard.  (I used to hate cherries - but now I can't get enough of them.)  Or called or wrote more often, especially after I moved away from home. 

I've kept all the letters that he ever wrote to me, many of them written on lightweight "airmail" paper that people used many moons ago.  A few choice lines from his letters over the years:
  • "Your grandmother is like a jumping bean.  Can't sit still.  She always manages to find something to do."  (Which was absolutely true.)
  • "Isn't it nice to get an unexpected letter?"  (Hint, hint...)
  • "Writing letters like talking to someone.  You say what comes in your head at that moment.  It is not necessary to be grammatically correct, as long as you express yourself.  Take my letters, for instance.  I am sure my grammar is terrible (it wasn't), but the least one should do is spell correctly.  In your letter, there are some careless unnecessary mistakes in spelling.  Remember at exam time, these small careless mistakes can be the difference between coming 1st or 2nd.  I hope you will not be cross with me for picking out your mistakes, and stop writing to me.  Remember, we learn from our mistakes."  (Just another of his many life lessons he would impart by letter.)
  • "You are my favorite, most favorite grandson in Toronto."  (I was the only grandson in Toronto, but I knew what he meant.)
  • "How's your piggy bank?  If you are short, let me know."  (I never did tell him, but he always found a way to "accidentally" leave something for me.)
I visit the mausoleum where his ashes are interred about once a year.  It's normally cold, or rainy, because it's typically around the holidays.  And I get teary-eyed every time, even 12 years since his passing.  But it's not so much because he's gone, because I know he's in a better place, but rather for those he left behind.  Like my grandmother, who still misses him terribly, or my youngest cousin, who never got to meet him.  Like my partner, whom I know he would have loved.  And me, because I don't think I told him often enough how much I loved him.

Happy Birthday, Goong-Goong.


Unknown said...

I remember your dad speaking of him at the service. It was very touching. I can't believe it's already been 12 years.

I feel the same about my grandparents not having the pleasure of meeting Meredith.

Christopher said...

And I remember your being there at the service - it meant a lot to me. Yes, my dad did give one of the eulogies, including his recollection of how my grandfather hated to buy a $2 ice-cream cone because he could buy a gallon of ice-cream at the supermarket for less, but he wouldn't hesitate to drop a bundle on a nice set of wheels. :)