Wednesday, February 8, 2012

For Grandpa

It's been a rough week. I got a call Sunday morning saying that my grandpa, my last remaining grandparent, and certainly the one I was closest to, was not doing well at all. He'd had cancer, kidney, lung, and heart problems for a good while. He had apparently nose-dived in less than 48 hours. A few hours after the first call, I got another one saying to come home. After packing and a few hours rest, I got in the truck at 1:38 AM Monday morning and made the 600-mile drive. Ten and a half hours later, I arrived to see a man who had always been strong laying in a hospital bed in the living room, barely able to communicate or move, and barely hanging on to life. At 11:40 PM, February 6, 2012, Alden Ray Heichel's soul returned to God.

I sadly am not able to stay for the calling hours or funeral, but that was not nearly as important as getting to see him one last time while there was still breath in his lungs, and tell him that I love him. In my absence, my father is going to read the following at the funeral. I post it here as a memorial to a man that has greatly influenced my life.

Time would fail me to share all the things I learned from Grandpa, and all the memories we shared. Most of the time he was teaching, I don’t even think he realized it. You couldn’t keep him down, even if he was sick. He would go outside and keep working. You would seldom find him sitting down unless it was for a meal or time for coffee, or watching the sun set and the rabbits run around in the twilight. If there was work to be done, we did it. He always told the truth as he knew it. He tried to get along with everyone. For some reason, I never liked my middle name, until I found out it was mine because it was his. I now consider it an honor.

Looking back now and thinking about what I now hold as dear memories, I wouldn’t have believed at the time that these were the things I would remember most. There is the time he tried teaching me how to bush hog for the first time – in the middle of a wooded path. Yes, it ended as poorly as one might imagine. Then there was all the time we spent baling hay and straw, and then selling it. There was also all the time we spent in the corn crib bagging up sacks of corn to sell at the feed mill, which of course meant all the time learning to tie the bag properly. Or you could count the time we spent cutting firewood, me trimming small stuff, him cutting the logs, then me taking the splitting maul to them. He bought that maul just because he knew I liked hand-splitting the wood. Of course there is all the time we spent trying to get those pesky groundhogs, coons, and possums. And getting yelled at about how to properly drive the tractor, or back up trailers. Turns out I got pretty good at both.

I guess we did occasionally do things other than work. We did like to fish, whether it was in his pond, or at Mt. Gilead State Park, or Kokosing Reservoir, though we never had much luck at the latter two. And there is absolutely no way I could forget one of our favorite pastimes – drinking coffee. Let’s see, there would be the cup we would try to sneak in the morning without Grandma catching us; then there was the hot water pot and cups he kept in the shop so that she couldn’t catch us; oh, and the cups we would always stop for anytime we had to go to Tractor Supply or anywhere else in town. In recent years, it amounted to getting out to the house early in the morning, or late in the evening, and sitting on the deck talking over a couple cups.

Living 600 miles away from the person you spent most of your childhood and teenage time with gets you thinking about the things you miss long before you realize you have to miss them for good. Few things can bring me to tears the way that thinking about all the things I’ll never get to do again with grandpa can. Every time I plant my garden, or cut firewood, or patch holes in my shed roof, I’ll think about a man who will be missed by me in a way that I can only hope my grandchildren will miss me.

Every day, I’ll have a reminder of a man who was near deaf, stubborn as a mule, a bit of an impatient teacher, and a man that I sorely wish could share with me one more pot of coffee.

Rest in Peace, Grandpa.