Saturday, April 19, 2008

Gone, but not forgotten

On this day in 1986, my Grandpa Alpha Schuck died. Had he lived 2 more days, he would have been 94 years old. This picture of Grandpa was taken with my dad and mom, and his wife Helen (who he married a few years after grandma died), on the occasion of brother's wedding in October 1984. I think it is probably the last picture I have of him. Grandpa was a cheerful, happy person who liked to tell funny stories and jokes. Toward the end of his life, his hands were twisted and swollen with arthritis, and he must have been in pain, but I never heard him complain. He was a kind man.

He loved to grow things, and had a fantastic cactus garden. In fact, I have two varieties of cactus from his garden that are at least 40 years old. One of the earliest memories I have of him is helping him in his flower garden, planting pansies and alyssum. And to this day, those are the flowers that I enjoy the most, and in a few days I will be planting pansies in the whiskey-barrel planter by the back porch. As an aside, I used to plant them in an old galvanized washtub until I came outside one day and saw a rabbit sitting in the tub having them for lunch.

When the old family home where my father was raised was condemned to make way for a freeway, Grandpa and Grandma moved to Gardena, very near our house. In the early 60s, we moved into that same tract of homes, and so he then lived only a few blocks away, within easy walking distance. I don’t remember Grandpa “doing things” with his grandchildren like one thinks of grandpas today—although he may have done with my brothers—but he was involved with our family activities. He was always there to help when my dad got involved in painting a room or the house. He had edging machine for the lawn, and I remember him coming to tidy up after my dad finished mowing. And he always enjoyed the family dinners at holidays and birthdays, and he always ended the meal by saying “Edith [my mom], thank you , everything was delicious.” Grandpa loved the Western Scrub-Jays that lived in the neighborhood, and he trained them to come and pick peanuts out of his hands while he sat in a lawn chair in his driveway.

One of my most poignant memories occurred at Halloween after Grandma died, but before he married Helen (she was wonderful, by the way, stepping into the role of grandmother without a hitch). Grandpa invited us to his house for homemade hot chocolate after we finished trick-or-treating. Unfortunately, he accidently made it with salt instead of sugar—guess he got them mixed up—and we couldn’t drink it.

During the last few years of his life, I didn’t see him very much because by then we were living far away and only came back to California every other year. His days on earth came to an end in a nursing home, but he still had good quality of life: He wasn’t bedridden, and he still had a good appetite and enjoyed his food (Grandpa loved to eat -- especially chocolate kisses) and visiting with people. The family he left behind--wife, children, and grandchildren--buried him with love and respect in their hearts.

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