Our beloved Brew.

Our beloved Brew.
R.I.P. Big guy.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Tribute to Little Grandpa

It wasn't done intentionally, and I am not fixated on the subject of death, but this the second posting in a row that deals with the subject.

Yesterday, John Robert (Bob) Smith passed away in Florida. Some people knew him as Robert, some as John, but most called him Bob. Around our house, he was known as Little Grandpa, Sandy's father, and my father-in-law.

I'm not sure exactly when we started calling him Little Grandpa, but I clearly remember it was as a result of our children, who at a very young age used that term when they were trying to distinguish between their two grandpas in a conversation. My dad, because he was taller and heavier was called Big Grandpa. The terms just stuck.

Sandy and the kids just got back from a long weekend to visit Bob (as I called him) because there was concern expressed among Sandy's sisters about his declining health. We hadn't seen him in  a couple of years, since he moved from Illinois to Florida, and we wanted the kids to see him again in as close to the way they prefer to remember him, as possible. Three days after their return, he was gone.

Although we were warned that he suffered from dementia, only had moments of lucid behavior and also was frail physically, the kids and Sandy enjoyed their time with him. He joked, reminisced, watched old family movies, and seemed to be in decent health. In many ways, it was like the old times with him. True, he had to ask who Sandy was when he first saw her, but he clearly recognized the kids, and called them each by name as they first approached him. He even inquired a few times about me and my work. It appears Bob was an example of a condition about which I have often heard - a person who has suffered an extended illness sometimes appears to have a nearly complete recovery just days and hours before they pass.

Bob moved to Florida at the request of his ex-wife, my mother-in-law. She offered to care for him when it was clear a few years ago that his health was failing and he could no longer live on his own. We wanted him near us, but Sandy did not feel it her place to argue with her mom over his care. Aronka daily picked Bob up at the nursing home where he spent his nights and those times when his health took more severe turns for the worst. Most days she would take Bob to her home and tend to his needs, feed him and generally help him maintain as close to normal a lifestyle as he could muster.  We do not have a close relationship with Sandy's mother for reasons that separate lots of mothers and daughters, but we admire, and are eternally grateful for what she did in caring for Bob.

Before his health began to decline, which happened suddenly, Bob spent years providing daycare for our  two children. This was especially significant when you factor in that Sandy trusted NO ONE with our children. Bob was the sole exception. Although both children adored and were adored by Little Grandpa, Tate especially considered him to be a third parent. Little Grandpa never tired of getting down on the floor with the kids to participate in any activity that amused them or occupied their time. The kids were always the first to tire of an activity and move on to something else. While I tried to steer my kids activities so as not to get too bored myself, he always let them take the lead and never hesitated to follow - sometimes it was coloring, or piling blocks to knock down, and sometimes it was merely shredding paper. He participated as enthralled as they were. I'd never witnessed an adult before who was so comfortable being childlike. I know I didn't have the patience to be that way myself.

The rituals Bob shared with the kids were too numerous to list. Everyday, as Tate arrived home from preschool and grammar school, Little Grandpa would be hiding behind the bushes at the side of the garage with just a rifle barrel visible. That was Tate's signal to run to the backyard, dump his backpack and pick from the arsenal of weapons Little Grandpa would stash under the row of arborvitaes. Then, fairly armed, they would engage in a spirited round of pretend battles.

Most days, Bob would take the kids down to the neighborhood park only a couple of blocks from our house. It was there that he taught Tate to love fishing, and where they spent countless hours talking or just sitting silently hooking their share of catch and release fish from the stocked pond.

As president of the homeowners association it wasn't unusual for the private security firm or the police to call me at my place of business when a serious incident occurred in our neighborhood of over 1000 homes. I just wasn't prepared when they called to tell me my father-in-law, who was in his late sixties and my six year-old were being detained for climbing a massive earth mound and throwing rocks at the construction site at the end of the block. Bob yelled "Run!" and started to take off himself when he first saw the authorities approaching, but Tate didn't get it, so Bob decided to stand and face the music with his co-conspiritor.

Ah, the stories; I could go on forever.

Instead, we will have to be content with the memories this man left us. The wisdom and calm he taught us, the level of commitment he demostrated to our family, the generosity and kindness of soul he shared, and the lifelong impact he made on us. Truly, he had a greater hand in molding our children than anyone other than Sandy and myself. He may have been known as Little Grandpa but he proved to be the biggest man I knew and he will be missed.