‘Pop, Mom passed’
I’ve done a lot of things in my life that you could classify as tough. None compared to having to stand in the living room at my grandparents’ house Sunday night.
“Pop, Mom passed.”
It took my aunt Bonnie a few times repeating it for the news to sink in.
My grandfather has been deteriorating for years. He has Alzheimer’s, and sometimes has trouble remembering who even he is, though there are also of course moments of great lucidity, like when he talks 1930s and 1940s baseball with me some days.
We were worried that he wouldn’t be able to comprehend the news. We were also worried, on the other hand, that he would.
“No. No. No.”
Words can’t describe the tinge of sadness in his voice. It broke my heart to hear it, that’s all I can say.
Granny and Granddaddy – Margaret Decker, Peggy, and Paul Decker, to the rest of the world – had been married for 66 years. That’s right – 66 years. Comprehend that, right? They married on Aug. 1, 1942, the midpoint of World War II. Granny had gone up to work in the munitions factory at the Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland, a real-life Rosie the Riveter, aiming to send money back home to Augusta County to help her family through the war. Granddaddy had enlisted in the service a year earlier, preceding Pearl Harbor, figuring correctly that the U.S. was going to end up getting dragged into the war, and at least if he enlisted he’d have some say over where he ended up getting sent.
Being the nosy type, I once asked Granny how they met. Being the storytelling type, Granny went into great detail about how she’d been asked to a dance at the military base by one of Granddaddy’s friends, and how Granddaddy caught her attention at the dance, and how she ended up leaving as his date for the next dance.
She then added several yarns about life on the base. My favorite is about how he decided he had tried to rig up a hot fork to cook something and ended up shorting the electricity for the entire base – sending everybody into a tizzy thinking that it was the Nazis trying to sabotage the arsenal, with a code red alert being called and sirens blasting and soldiers running around in circles for minutes on end all around.
Whenever they’d get in a disagreement over something, Granny would refer to Granddaddy with some reference to his being from up North, “Yankee” or “Damn Yankee” being the most common descriptive terms that she’d throw. I don’t know if he responded to her in kind, but I seem to remember him calling me once or twice a “hillbilly,” having been born in the South, so I can imagine that it might have come up between them once or twice.
I don’t remember too many disagreements between them, just for the record. I was fortunate to have been able to spend an awful lot of time with them over the years. As a small child, I was always begging Mom and Dad to let me spend the night at Granny’s, as we called their house on the city limits of Staunton on New Hope Road, just before you get to the Interstate 81 bridge, and then when my parents divorced, Granny had my sister and me stay weekends with her so that we weren’t left home alone with Mom working.
What I remember is summer evenings on the front porch eating ice cream and hearing Granny tell stories about life during the war and her friends from Pennsylvania after the war and her years working at Western State and complaining about them Republicans – yeah, I get it honest – and also pointing out wildflowers growing in the field across the way and telling us their names and when they grow best and a million other things.
Granddaddy would be at her side, on the lookout for groundhogs in their vegetable garden a few hundred yards down the hill and making sure that his Peggy had enough Diet Pepsi for her liking.
“No. No. No.”
Granddaddy looked down from his recliner to the ground, then looked back up.
“She was the best thing I ever had,” he said, measuring his words, and shook his head.
A couple of hours later, after things had calmed down, he motioned for me.
“Christy,” he said, calling me by the childhood nickname that he and Granny had shared for me, “go back in my bedroom and get my wallet.”
I handed it to him in short order, and he started rooting around for something, I couldn’t figure what.
Somebody else got my attention for a minute or two – we were beginning to lay out details for the family night and funeral service – when Granddaddy got my attention back.
“Christy,” he said, and handed me a photo.
“This was your Granny before we were married,” he said.
The photo was well-worn, to say the least.
He’d been carrying it with him since World War II.
My goose bumps had goose bumps, for the record.
– Story by Chris Graham