My Bapa Passed Away :(

24 Dec 1926 - 22 May 2007

My Uncle Ken called last night, and when I called him back this morning he started to cry on the phone the moment he heard my voice ...... I knew what that meant.

My Bapa was gone.

He (my grandfather) had a pretty bad car accident a few years ago. He was driving down the road and side-swiped several parked cars, before ramming the front of his car into the back end of a parked pick-up truck. He was almost killed, and suffered a small amount of brain damage, in addition to a lot of other injuries. But after a good long time in the hospital, he came home, bedridden and with home health nurses, but he came home nonetheless.

There's confusion in the family as to whether or not he was displaying symptoms of dementia (in one form or another) before that - my grandmother (a very difficult woman of old New England stock) insisted that my grandfather was "play acting", but from what we heard from their neck of the woods (and specifically from my uncle Ken - the only normal one in the bunch), it was not play-acting, it was serious. He had had a couple minor accidents before the last really bad one, and needless to say, he really shouldn't have been driving anymore - but, however it happened, he was.

He was never the same after the accident. He spent the last few years of his life in and out of the hospital and the nursing home, progressively deteriorating. By the end, my grandmother and my uncle Ken (my other uncle refused to visit), were constantly getting the "quality of life" speeches from the hospital staff - and one hospital actually refused to treat him any further because they felt, at 80, he'd lived a long life, and that it was time to let him go. They were probably right, we don't know, we weren't there to see him - but my grandmother would not hear of it. She insisted that his mother lived to 95, and there was no reason he couldn't do the same. I'm sure she would have been right, if not for the accident. But my grandmother felt they had to keep trying, so they did, and I understand that - they needed to know that they really had done all they could for him - but I'm not sure it's the choice I would have made, and it's certainly not the choice I would want anyone to make for me.

My grandfather (I called him Bapa because I couldn't pronounce Grandpa as a small child) was one of the greatest men I've ever met in my life. He was my father figure when my dad was doing his own thing for that ten year span of my childhood. My Bapa was amazing - he was stable, kind-hearted, and yet ... lots of fun. He worked hard, and cared about his family more than anything on earth (no matter how crazy it was), but he also had a very zany sense of humor. He wasn't perfect, of course, no one is. But he had a very rough life, and handled it very well, all things considered.

He was born in Beatrice, Nebraska, the oldest of four, his father was a farmer. My great-grandfather was apparently prosperous, as farmer's go anyway, and decided at a certain point to deed a small piece of land surrounding his parents house on the farm to them (both of them had come over from Germany with their families, as children, and my grandfather always remembered them very fondly - they spoke German at home, so my grandfather spoke it as a child, but lost most of it later). My great-grandfather then mortgaged the rest of the farm to buy a neighboring operation. And for awhile, everything was fine. But then, the stock market crashed in 1929, and the Dust Bowl of the 30's hit hard.

My great-grandfather lost everything. And when he did, he started to drink. Everyone reacts differently to alcohol, but my great-grandfather was apparently the proverbial mean drunk, and he was often drunk. He beat my great-grandmother so badly that she actually divorced him, took the children, moved in with her family, and took work as a chicken plucker. But, not able to make it on her own - she went back to him. My Bapa had memories from his childhood in which they had nothing to eat, except for a cup of coffee (even the children) and a bowl of oatmeal for the whole day, he also had memories of spilling things at the table and being back-handed so hard by his father that he was knocked off the chair and into the wall.

He spent as much time as he could with his grandparents, and I think he actually lived with them for a time. And when he was a teenager he ran away from home several times and ended up in Boys Town. At 17 he joined the Army (I don't know if he lied about his age, or if they were taking 17 year olds during WWII). They trained him to work on airplane engines, and for the rest of his life he was convinced he was mechanically talented (which he wasn't - but he tried, and in my book, you get Brownie points just for that). But by the time he was done going through all his training, the war was almost over, so he ended up being sent to Germany to put on radio shows and play football for the entertainment of the allied forces stationed there. Apparently, morale was very important to the Army back then ;) He had a box in his closet of old photos, and other odds and ends, from his days in Germany, but no one was ever allowed to look at it - we suspect there must have been pics of half-naked showgirls, or something - or maybe love letter from some old sweetheart, LOL.

When he got out of the Army he moved to California - his mother had moved there for a job in one of those fabulously booming WWII airplane factories. I don't know what year my great-grandfather died, sometime in the 1940's or 50's, I think. I only know that he died of cirrhosis of the liver, and that after my grandfather went into Boys Town and the Army, I don't think he ever saw his father again.

He met my grandmother in a bank - she was working as a teller while taking some college courses - and they went on double dates to Clifton's Cafeteria with her younger brother Chan and his future wife Lou. My grandparents got married in November of 1951, and proceeded to live with my grandmother's parents for the next 2 or 3 years while my grandfather was in school and working - which couldn't have been easy.

My grandmother, in addition to being "difficult", also came from a family that had lived in the same town in Massachusetts for 300 years, and had not had to work in several generations so they passed their time being "gentlemen farmers". My grandmother, according to her, never knew there was a Depression. When the family moved from MA, they sold everything they owned there, and bought several small houses in and around Long Beach, CA which they rented out, and my great-grandfather worked as an aeronautical engineer for one of the big airplane makers (I don't know if he went to college or not - maybe you didn't have to back then), so money was not something my grandmother had ever really worried about.

My grandparents came from completely different worlds.

My grandfather went to college on the GI Bill, got an AA in Accounting, and then a Bachelor's in Math from Cal State Long Beach. Then, he went to work, first for the Air Force, and then for the Defense Department, as a contract auditor. It was his job to tell them they could not justify spending $6,000 on a hammer. He also moved into "the Black World", and did contract auditing for projects that were otherwise "off the books". He traveled frequently, usually with an aluminium sided bullet/bomb proof briefcase that was often literally handcuffed to him. He was always seated at the rear of planes - apparently some government study determined that was the safest place to be sitting in the event of a crash (something I've always remembered when traveling), and not only was my grandmother told that if anything ever happened to him - they would, officially, "have no idea who he was", but she was also never supposed to know where he was going. Funny thing is, she often went with him, LOL.

We always thought it was sort of odd, that my grandfather, who was basically nothing more than an accountant, had this super-secret work that litterally required Top Secret clearance, and yet the government either didn't know, or didn't care, that his only brother had a criminal record a mile long, had illegally assumed a new identity, was married to "The Don's" daughter in Vegas, and that everything he owned (including his perpetually new Cadillac) "fell off a truck".

Are you picking up what I'm putting down? ;)

My grandfather usually worked more than one job so that his family could have everything they wanted/needed, and so he could have something in the bank for a rainy day. He was obsessed with saving - and spent his entire life despising mortgages. He made sure he bought a new car every two years, and that my grandmother was the one who drove it. They went to Big Bear twice a year (summer and winter), and my grandmother never followed a budget, worried about finances, or worked a day in her life. Bapa was constant, solid, hardworking, and always worried about the future of his children, and his own retirement.

The great disappointments of his life were that my grandmother would not allow his mother to come live with them when she started to get too ill to live on her own, and that neither of his sons finished college. But even then, he tried to be supportive. He would send money to his sister who was taking care of his mom, and visit once a year or so. And he did the best he could to help all his kids get started in the world. My Uncle Ken never wanted to do anything other than ranching, and my grandfather did everything he could to help - he encouraged him to go to college and study agriculture (and he did, but those were the only courses he passed, so, no degree), Bapa also paid for rented land out in Riverside County, and for the cattle to put on it. And then when it was time for Bapa to retire, he bought a 375 acre ranch in Nor Cal so that Ken and the cows could move up there with my grandparents. My grandfather had this Utopian ideal that all his kids would someday move up there, building little houses on separate corners of the place.

And when my uncle Mike made it clear that he had no interest in college either, my grandfather funded his desire to make a business out of refurbishing old drum parts into snazzy new sets (the only real passion in my uncle Mike's life is music/drums). For awhile that went well, but eventually Mike moved in with them in Nor Cal and makes his money selling crap on e-bay (or so he says - it's not that I 'know' any different, but let's just say if Mike ever got caught doing something else - I wouldn't be shocked).

One of my favorite things about my Bapa is that no matter what he had, he never forgot not having enough - he always remembered what it was like to be in those shoes. When I would go places with him and a panhandler would approach, my Bapa would empty his wallet (or as close to empty as he could), and always apologize for not having more. I remember once, he did that, and my grandmother was with us, and when the panhandler walked on, she said to my grandfather, "He's probably just going to buy alcohol, or maybe even drugs." My grandfather, who was not prone to standing up to my grandmother, said, "Dottie [a nickname she always hated, lol], if you had to live like that you might need a drink too. I don't care what he does with it."

I also remember, pretty much every Fall (and also at other times of the year) my grandfather would clean out his closet, and he and I would drive down to Santa Ana's version of Skid Row. He'd pull over, open the trunk, and we'd start handing things out to anyone who came over - and a lot of people came over. He always made sure, when he did the Fall clean out, that there was at least one warm coat in the lot.

That's what I'm gonna remember the most - his sense of connection to strangers, his concern for others, and the fact that he would share whatever he had. I don't think you can ask more from anyone.

We went over to the hospital this afternoon to tell my mom the sad news. We chit-chatted awhile, then she asked what was new. We started to tell her, but then she asked, "Is it bad news?" we nodded, and she said. "Don't tell me, I don't want to hear bad news today." So we didn't tell her. I don't think we'll tell her when we go back over later today either. They've plugged her trache today for the first time, so she's not having the best day ever. But she's hoping that she'll get to come home over the weekend.

When we got home from briefly visiting with my mom (she was pretty doped up so we decided to come back later to chat), I called my Aunt Cindy - my mom's only sister. My aunt and my grandmother had a falling out of sorts (entirely my grandmother's fault - though, not according to my grandmother) about 25 years ago, and haven't spoken in probably 20 years or so. I thought someone should call and tell Cindy that her father had died, and I didn't think anyone from up north would do it (my grandmother probably wouldn't allow it), so I called her. I haven't seen her, or even spoken with her, since I was about 7, but over the last 5 years or so, my mom and her sister have been writing each other regularly, so I am aware of most of what's going on with her, and vice versa. It was strange to talk to her after so long, and sad to have to do it under circumstances such as these, but it was also a really nice talk.

She's very "Christian", and she peppers her language (just as she does her writing) with many, many references to "The Lord" (she's married to a Minister), but it doesn't bother me as much as I would've thought. Her beliefs are hers, and that's fine. And if it makes her feel better to say: "praise the lord" that Bapa's "in a better place", or that he's "graduated to glory", fine. Whatever gets you through, is fine by me. I'm glad "the Lord's been good" to them.

So, it's been a strange, strange day - and it ain't over yet.

ADDENDUM (it's after 1 am on Saturday now): Well, we didn't go back over to see my mom today - she called about 15 minutes before we were going to leave to let us now that because they decided they were not going to pull her trache out tonight at 8.45 pm (the earliest they could since that's when the 24 hr. mark would be up), and since the capping of the trache is so torturous - she was requesting more pain meds and sedatives - so she wouldn't be much company, and we shouldn't bother coming back over. Then, completely on her own (I did not bring it up at all), she said, "And about that bad news ..... you and I both know the list of four or five things it could be, and I don't want to know. I don't want to hear about it until this is over." "OK," said I, "that's not a problem."

But the thing is, it is a problem, sort of. Now, I've got to sit on this, and not mention a word of it - or anything in connection with it, until she feels ready. I'm going to have to think about every syllable I am about to utter and make sure that none of it gives anything away. I thought I was really not looking forward to telling her, but now, I'm even more uncomfortable knowing and not being allowed to say anything. I mean, what am I going to talk about when I go over to see her tomorrow? She'll ask me what I've been up to -- I can't tell her I spent an hour on the phone with my uncle, or that I actually talked to my aunt for the first time in a zillion years. I can't say any of the stuff that's on my mind, how he died, the details of his funeral, how much I miss him - and that's all I've got floating around in my head right now.

I really hate keeping secrets - it's so draining.
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