Books Keep Loved Ones Alive

by Karla Erickson

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    Grandfather stood more than six feet two inches tall, and when I was little, I thought he was a giant. He had broad shoulders and large hands and wore a plaid mackinaw jacket that made him look like Paul Bunyan. A smile that seemed always about ready to break into a roar of laughter was as much a part of him as his sky-blue eyes and bushy eyebrows. But as I sat by his side in the hospital room that morning, he looked so different from the old familiar Grandpa I had known forever that I had to struggle to keep from crying. He had suffered a stroke, was partially paralyzed, and couldn’t speak. Realistically I had to accept the fact that Grandfather—this tower of strength with the twinkle fading in his eyes—would not live much longer. As I held his warm, rugged hand, memories came flooding.

    “Remember the time you stopped the airplane on the runway?” I asked. Grandfather’s eyes lit up and so I continued to go back with him to a day when I was 14 years old. Grandmother had decided that she and Grandpa would take me to Salt Lake City for April conference to celebrate my birthday. She had called for airplane reservations, but as usual, she was late. As we arrived at the airport, I panicked to see our plane starting its takeoff. Although she was tiny in size, Grandmother never had a minute’s hesitation about giving Grandfather orders. This time was no different. She turned to him and ordered, “Ed, get out there and stop that plane!”

    I couldn’t believe what was happening. Grandfather knew it would do no good to argue, so he just muttered a few words under his breath and crawled out of the car. He opened the large silver gate leading to the runway, and the next thing I knew, he was running alongside the plane waving his arms.

    As we boarded the plane, my face was red with embarrassment, but Grandmother just ushered us to our places in her usual matter-of-fact way. As I recalled the episode with Grandfather, I started laughing, and although he couldn’t speak or laugh, his eyes spilled merriment. Once again we were sharing.

    I left the hospital and found myself thinking about the moments spent with my grandparents. For the first time in my life, I realized how unobtrusively and quickly time does pass. During the years, my beloved grandparents had grown old. Grandma had already passed away, and now I wouldn’t have Grandpa much longer. They would always live on in my heart, but I wanted them to be a part of my children’s and grandchildren’s lives as well. I decided that I would write on paper my memories of the times we had spent together; in that way I would be able to share my grandparents with my own children in the future.

    When I returned home, I sat down and started to recall memories. I slipped paper after paper into the typewriter, typing as quickly as my thoughts would come. I knew I was making spelling and grammatical errors but decided to concentrate on meaning while I wrote my first draft and make corrections when I did the final copy. After typing up the stories on heavy white paper the size of book of remembrance pages, I covered them with plastic protector sheets and bound the pages together in a black binder. For a title page I used three pictures of Grandpa, and on the last two pages of the book I put more pictures. For my cover I enlarged a color picture of Grandpa’s sheep camp in the mountains, framed it, and glued it on the front of the binder.

    My book was completed after only two weeks; writing the memories had taken only a couple of afternoons. As I relived the weeks spent in the mountains in the old log cabin where my mother had been born, I found myself typing through tears. It was there I grew to love the earth with her wild flowers and sagebrush. Grandfather was a mountain of a man as he worked with his sheep—mighty, yet ever so gentle with the little, newborn lambs. As Grandmother cooked over the old black coal stove, she shared her philosophies of life with me. Her lemon pies became her trademark. Her ideas became my beliefs.

    I wrote of the afternoons they came to visit my family. Grandpa always had a brown sack full of groceries, and as he placed it on the counter, Grandma pulled out fresh fruit and vegetables and nuts. She told us children to always eat plenty of nuts and peanuts because they were good brain foods and she wanted to have smart grandchildren. Grandpa always went straight to the couch and invited us all to get on his lap. He pulled out his gold watch and chain and let us listen to the ticking sound. He then proceeded to tell us stories.

    I wrote about the many weekends I spent at their home. Grandpa usually fell asleep about 11:00 P.M., while Grandma and I were just getting ready to go on our midnight walk to the corner grocery store several blocks away. Upon returning, we finally got to bed about 2:00 A.M. By 5:30 the next morning, Grandma was up and preparing breakfast. How I tried to keep up with her!

    Recalling the memories made me love and appreciate my grandparents even more. Having the shared moments in black and white made me realize all they had given me. I wanted to do something special for my grandfather while he was still alive. Then a new idea came to me: why not dedicate the book to him? It was a perfect way to express my love for him. I ended the book with the following:

    So, Grandpa, I have not been able to share much with you these last few years, but I will always love you and Grandma very deeply. You have given me some of my very happiest childhood memories. I thank you for them all.

    I thank you for all the pretty clothes you let Grandma buy for me …

    Thank you for letting me stay with you on weekends and especially for taking me to the mountains with you …

    Thank you for the use of your piano and the sheet music and songs you bought for me …

    Thank you for all the hamburgers and malts and root beer floats we had at “Myrts” …

    Thank you for letting me take your new Buick and letting me use a whole tank of gas …

    Thank you for being my Grandpa!

    I love you very much!

    Your granddaughter

    I went to the hospital carrying my special gift for my grandfather. As I read the pages of the book to him, some of the incidents were so humorous that he struggled to laugh. When I recalled the sorrow we had shared, tears filled his eyes and he and I cried together. The most difficult part for me was to read the closing paragraph, thanking him for all he had given me. I closed the book and laid it by his side, grateful that I had given him a precious gift.

    When Grandfather died, I took the book and, heartbroken, put it away on a shelf. Now, only six years later, as I read it to my little children, they talk about my grandpa and grandma as though they really know them. The book is priceless to me, but even more priceless to my children’s children as they read it and hand it down through generations of time as part of my life story. Now I know that my grandparents will be alive in the hearts of many for years and years to come.

    Illustrated by Dale Kilbourn