Some things never change, until they do

I’m in Boston for my grandfather’s service today. Per his request, it will be a low-key affair. Being the exceptionally organized person that he was, my grandfather had planned 95% of the service himself before he left, leaving envelopes to pay his taxes, money to take the family out to dinner after the burial, and strict instructions that we are to finish off the cognac before we leave.

It’s a bittersweet time. He was the last of my grandparents, and with him passes an era. Or, as my dad so eloquently put it, “Guess this means I’m next.” (Thanks Dad.) I stood in my grandfather’s front yard yesterday, shivering in the chill air as I looked around at the yard that had figured so prominently in my youth. I stared at the driveway, trying to reconcile the empty expanse of grass with the lush gardens I had run through on a daily basis as a kid. As my grandparents got older and it became harder to do yardwork, their gardens and shrubs and trees were slowly removed; but since I had by that point moved to the other side of the country, the changes hit me abruptly as I only saw them in two or three year increments.

What was once acres of grass occasionally dotted with housing had been replaced over the years with rows of houses, as the neighbors sold off the land to be parceled off to developers. This, too, was strange to my eyes. My aunt opened his front door and led us in to a house of shadows, my nose assaulted by that smell that was so singularly THEM, the smell that had always defined their home, a combination of apple cider, wood beams and pipe tobacco.

“Let me know which of their things you might like,” she said, as I walked into the kitchen, running my fingers over the vinyl chairs I spent untold hours in, most of it eating. Unlike the yard and the rest of the world, my grandparents’ house was exactly as it has always been since I was born, from the assorted crosses and various depictions of Jesus dotting the wall to the crocheted dolls from the old world on the stairs. All the exact same except, of course, for its defining characteristic, the warmth of its occupants. I took in every detail and every item and knick-knack, not as an inventory but in a last attempt to take it all in, to make a mental image of the home in its entirety, which is the only thing I wanted to take from the home. Memories, intact. It will be the last time I walk there.

From that perfectly preserved home I stepped back outside to the yard both familiar and foreign, straining to remember the time my grandfather brought a deer home from a hunting trip, dressed it in the garage, and watched in bewilderment as I ran screaming down the street. (My uncle had told me they had Bambi in the garage.) As much and as admirably as they had managed to keep their home so phenomenally consistent and reliable over the decades, time comes along and forces us to change, like it or not.

And that is one of the sad truths it’s easier not to spend too much time dwelling on, so of course the first thing I did after that was call back home and get an update on the goings-on of the kids and the dogs, which are, at least for now, consistent, predictable, and comforting. My son was eating. My daughter was eager to talk. And Brody….well, god bless him, Brody was Brody.

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  • cindy

    Dr. V – you gave me gift today of remembering that day I too walked through my grandfather’s house for the last time….and if I close my eyes I can still remember the pipe tobacco as well. Yes every day there are reminders that our lives are finite, that this is not forever. Yet there are amazing gifts embedded in our present….even in dogs that eat cat litter. Grace and peace and comfort to you and your family….

  • tabitha

    I am the luckiest person in the world. I live in my grandmother’s house. I bought it from her before she died a year today. Although we have changes it substantially, I can still see glimmers of the house I played in so often as a child. I kept some of the furniture and a few staple items around the house. This house is our family heirloom because my grandmother, and mother were both raised here. In the basement are the old steamer trunks that my great grandmother came to Canada with. I have no regrets buying this small 100 year old house except that my grandmother is not living in it any more.

    I am so sorry for your loss. I lost all my grandparents by the time I was 28, and my husband lost them when he was 25. We know how difficult it is and our thoughts are with you.

  • God love Brody. xo

  • Anonymous

    I lost all of my grandparents by the age of 27 so I understand the pain and loss. It seems like they should live forever. Grandparents are special people; they are a link to our past and a glimpse into our future.

    I passed my maternal grandparents’ house this past weekend. I remember rose gardens and the big blue spruce and how we played t-ball in the backyard trying not to trample her flowers. After they both died, it sat in disarray because of the next owner. I noticed this weekend, someone was clearing out the brush and fixing it up. And as I passed it I could smell their smell – lilac, his aftershave, balsa and wintergreen. Some things you never lose.

    I’m sorry for your loss and your family is in my thoughts.

  • Shawn Finch, DVM

    So sorry to hear about your Grandpa. Thinking of you (((hugs)))

  • Susan

    So sorry to hear about your grandfather. Nothing like a dog to bring you back to reality. ๐Ÿ™‚

    We got so tired of trying to keep the puppy (now 9 months old) out of the cat litter, we put up a baby get w/ a kitty door to the room where the litter box is. The 55lb dog can still squeeze her way through the kitty door, but she makes so much noise we have plenty of warning! I swear this dog is realted to Gumby.

  • Sue W.

    Love the Brody image and title! Even in grief, you continue to make others smile. An excellent coping mechanism. Your grandfather’s organization, down to the cognac, is admirable and enviable to those of us that are Type A personalities.

  • sandy weinstein

    so sorry to hear about your loss. your grandparents sounded like wonderful people. i only knew 1 of my grandparents, and only for a few yrs. i was the youngest and born rather late in my mother’s life (for kids back then). i am amazed how organized your grandfather was. i only wish my parents had done the same. at this point, even 2 yrs after my mother has passed, my older siblings are still suing, the co-trustee (i am the other truste) quit and left me a huge mess, the atty who did the trust charged my mother several thousand more to handle the trust and then refused but would not give the money back, there is not enough money left in the trust to handle the problems and pay for the gravesites b/c the other trustee handed out the money against atty’s say so and mine, i still have a house full of furniture, clothes, etc. that i need to get rid of, it is just too much for 1 person to handle everything. the other trustee did nothing except gripe abt everything. i think i will be dealing with this til the day i die. i wish my parents had been more organized and thoughtful for the people that would be dealing with such issues. however, i miss my mother terribly. i took care of her the last 12 yrs of her life.

  • Cathey

    People who don’t ‘get’ pets, won’t get this post, but those of us who do, understand and smile through our tears. Hugs to you, yours and especially Brody.

  • Your grandpa is in a better place now. He must have been a character, to have organized everything so efficiently before he went. Think of the pleasant memories and that’s how you’ll remember him.