"My grandfather once told me that there were two kinds of people: those who do the work and those who take the credit. He told me to try to be in the first group; there was much less competition."
My grandfather, my papa, passed away just over a week ago. My mom told my sister and me when we got together for lunch. He had gone in his sleep the night before, and it was the peaceful sort of passing he so deserved. I don't think it quite hit me right away since we have always lived 400 miles apart. I think I was just happy to know that he didn't suffer. At 88 years old, he'd had a long, fulfilling life.
Still, though, you never expect someone in your life to go away for good. It's funny how death is one of the only things we can expect for sure, yet it is always so surprising when it happens. In some strange way, he has been more alive to me in the last couple weeks than ever. Perhaps it is because he has been the main topic of conversation, and we've all been swapping stories about wonderful memories with him. On the other hand, I think it has something to do with the fact that I feel like we can know each other better now. I've always had the idea that people gain an unfathomable amount of knowledge when they cross over into what is unknown to us. After all, he was only one Papa to seven children, 16 grandchildren, and soon-to-be 12 great-grandchildren. It would have been pretty difficult for this hardworking, virtuous, man of few words to get to know his granddaughter from 400 miles away.
I have many memories of my papa, but my most vivid one is from when I was about seven years old. He was out in the backyard working on a project, and I was rummaging through an assortment of wood scraps he had in a trash can. He could have easily ignored my pesky curiosity, but he put aside what he was working on and embraced it. I can't recall if we even really spoke, but he gathered up some of the various pieces and made a birdhouse with me. Having always been a talkative young girl intimidated by this quiet grandfather of mine and confused by his sense of calm, I felt like we had truly connected for the first time. I guess we can never choose the way people will remember us or what we do that will stand out to them in hindsight, but I'm so thankful that this is my memory that sums him up in my mind. I'd like to think that he'd be pleased with this view I have of him. Over the last few years, I've discovered my love for birds, and I don't think I'll ever see another one without thinking of him.
Sharing memories like that one with my family and looking through all of the old photos set up at his beautiful funeral, it was so clear that he truly was one of the good ones. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, married a truly fantastic woman, and raised seven children with her. He worked the same job for 34 years. He continued working throughout his 28 years of retirement by helping his family and friends improve their homes. He was early to bed, early to rise. He always gave his best to anything he ever did. He was a product of the greatest generation. He was strong, quiet, humble. He loved vanilla ice cream. He really did bring out the beauty in simplicity. He was my grandfather, my papa.
Henry William Wright, sometimes better known as Hammerin' Hank, has been and always will be an inspiration to me. Not only was he a man of tradition and family, but he was also a man who was open to and accepting of things that some might find unconventional. I think Papa, like many of us, realized that life has more and more gray areas as we get older. That's why I'd like to think that we aren't just alive or dead but, rather, just are. I'd like to believe that we simply exist in the memories of those who know and love us and that the rest is just details. I hope he would be proud of my attempt at keeping it simple. I love you, Papa.
Originally posted: 3/21/11