Lessons – In Memorim

September 26, 2012

“Are you practicing your arithmetic?” he would ask me. I always thought it was funny how he and nana referred to math. Arithmetic, so fancy, or archaic. I wasn’t sure.

“Yes.”

“You should keep up with that arithmetic Kristen, so you can be smarter than your ‘ol gramps.” Yeah right, I thought. Even at seven, I knew grandpa was smart.

I climbed up on to the couch where he was sitting and ran my hand across the top of his head, front to back. For his whole life he had the same military haircut. For my whole life, his hair was as white as fresh snow. Regardless, it was always trimmed, about a quarter of an inch in length.

“Don’t you mess up my hair!” he roared, and we both laughed. It was a game we played every time I saw him, and I found it hilarious, every time. Mess up that hair? As if.

I cuddled next to him and looked up. He had to be almost eighty at that time. The skin on his neck was soft, but had deep creases in it from years of life. His earlobes hung long, almost like they were melting. He had a big nose, completely appropriate for a man who stood several inches taller than six feet. His eyes were quirky, one brown, one blue. He had deep creases here too, crinkles permanently fixed from smiling about all the good things in life.

“You gotta make sure and keep up on all that arithmetic. You get yourself a good education, and you’ll go far in life. There’s nothing more valuable than a good education.”

I get it!, I would think to myself. “I will grandpa”, I would say. “Let’s play chess”.

My grandpa taught me to play chess when I was six or seven years old. We sat out in front of his self-designed, self-built home in Oroville, California. He bought some land there in the 1980’s, near the lake, when the Kelly Ridge community was a nice place to retire. His home was fantastic for a seven (or seventy!) year old. He had built in secret hiding places for treasures – probably skills left over from the hobo days. He built a bed that attached to the wall and could be rolled out (with a small wall-headboard) on rails, onto a deck so one could sleep under the stars from the second story balcony. He had a wood burning stove – a complete anomaly to a kid who grew up in bay area suburbia – but a man who warmed his hands via hobo campfires couldn’t possibly pay PG&E for heat when you can make it for free!

My grandpa always stressed the value of good education, yet I feel like he was one of my greatest teachers. There was chess on the porch. He and my dad taught me to ride my first bike in an abandoned parking lot near the Oroville Dam. He taught me how to make buttermilk pancakes and grow the yeast – he was a cook in the army, and took pride over making food that his men actually wanted to eat.

He gave me several harmonicas, teaching me the differences between the instruments, all while actually planting in me a deep seeded love of music. I remember sitting next to him in his workshop while he finished sanding a violin that he made. Himself. He also crafted two guitars from hand, one of which I am lucky enough to own today. He bought me a piano when I was ten.

“That’s your birthday and Christmas presents for the next ten years” he said with a smile in his eyes. Crap, I thought. He can’t be serious, can he?. Of course he wasn’t.

Of all the uncountable lessons grandpa taught me, I still feel like I have so much to learn from him. He was oh, so patient. He lived through so many tough times, he could look at life’s frustrations and say, Psh, that’s not worth my time. He was constantly teaching himself something. From learning to play guitar, to learning to build a guitar. He made investments, made mistakes, and made better investments. For a man who had to live so much of his life from day to day, he learned how to invest in the future. Obviously, he knew what it meant to work hard. And this didn’t stop with the work he was paid for. He could be counted on to lend a hand, never forgetting those who lent one to him.

Grandpa loved kids. Although he only had one of his own, he mentored the neighbor kids. A good friend of my mother’s, the next-door neighbor kid from her childhood, told us recently that grandpa taught him about life, and gave him the encouragement he needed as a kid. Grandpa gave him a compass when he was in grade school and taught him how to use it. This sixty-something year old man still has grandpa’s compass today.

One of grandpa’s favorite places to travel was Mexico. He would take in the culture, take in the third-world living conditions, take in the people. He loved the kids. Before he would go, grandpa and I would clean out my over-filled toy chest, and he would take several trinkets and toys with him. And when he came back, he brought the best stories home with him.

“When you come into town” he would say, “all the kids come running. They see you and they know you have money. They’ve got nothing but rags on them. Their parents have no money. They come running, scrambling over each other, to see what you have. When I pulled out your toy necklaces and dolls, Kristen, their eyes got this big.” He would motion with his hands, to show me how big their eyes got. And of course, I felt a bit of childish pride in giving my toys to kids who needed them. “Now if you stay a day or two, they get to know you. They all come running every time they see you. Your little toys are the biggest treasure they’ve ever seen. And their mothers look on from far away, and they are so happy.”

Grandpa told me about how he would tell them stories. He of course told them stories in English, with the little bits of Spanish he picked up here and there. But regardless, he told me how the kids sat around him, listening silently and intently to his every word. When it came to this, I knew exactly how they felt. I was lucky enough to hear grandpa’s stories about all of the fantastic places he saw, and as I reflect, I can’t remember one without a human aspect. He said went to educate himself, but I feel what he brought with him and what he brought back was so, so much more.

 Everything in moderation… including a pale ale, every day

When my nana was sick with cancer in the winter of 2005, I was twenty years old, at home for Christmas break from college. Nana was staying in my childhood room, grandpa in the guest bedroom. I remember walking down the hall to see her, and catching him, sitting on the edge of her bed.

“Please don’t leave me, honey” he said. “I love you. Please don’t go.” He picked up her hand and kissed it while she slept. It was the most tender thing I had ever seen this tall, sturdy, stoic man do. I ran back down the hall, bursting into tears before my brain could overtake my emotions.

On New Year’s Day, my nana passed away. Grandpa was, of course, stoic. And unlike all those stories you hear about one grandparent following the other into the next life, grandpa survived. He moved out of our house into independent living. He taught his geriatric neighbors to play bridge, and then was disgusted when no one had the brains to beat him. He only had an eighth grade education after all.  He lived nearly all of the remaining 6.5 years of his life on his own. But that’s him, independent.

Grandpa understood life like no one else I know. A farm boy as a child, he knew: we live, and we die. The world continues on. He continued on after his love of 58 years passed away. I’m sure he would just smile and shake his head if he saw how I am taking his death right now.

I can’t summarize, can’t vocalize, can’t write enough to describe the love, the inspiration, the lessons I have learned from this great man. And I know everyone feels their grandpa is the best. And that’s okay. But this was my grandpa, and to me, he was really the greatest. Of course I’ll miss him every day, and love him forever, but I think the best I can do by him is to keep learning from him. I still have so much to learn.

Vernon Moore        5/17/1914 – 9/25/2012

One of the last times I got to see grandpa was at the Vet’s Home hospital. He told me a story about being stationed in the Aleutian Islands during WWII. The weather was so heavy, and the wind so strong, that it blew the snow completely sideways. He had a rope connected to the back door, and the other end tied to the outhouse.

“You had to use the rope to find the john” he said. “And you had to keep your eyes shut, or else the tears in your eyes would freeze them open!”. He laughed at the memory, as if it were enjoyable. “We found a lot of stuff to do indoors up there.” Making the best of everything, my hero.

Mom and I snuck him out of the hospital that day, and put a sweatshirt on over his hospital gown even though it was August. We wheeled him across the beautiful Vet’s Home property over to their newly opened pub. We sat, and each of us enjoyed a Pale Ale. We watched the summer Olympics and didn’t talk too much. Grandpa fell asleep on the wheelchair ride back to his hospital bed, and after a beer and the warm summer sun, I wanted to leave him sleeping in his chair and crawl into the bed myself.

The power-nap on the ride back did him just right though, and he woke up for another round of stories. After a joyful afternoon of visiting and reminiscing, I had to get on the road for a 3 hour drive home.

“I’ll see you soon grandpa.” I said, and I bent down and kissed his cheek. “I love you.”

“Okay Kristen, I’ll see ya” he said, smiling up at me, one or two teeth having given up on 98 years in the same mouth. I smiled at how cute he was. I bent down again, and deliberately mussed up his hair, all 1/4 inches of it, back and forth.

“Don’t you mess up my hair!” he roared. And we both laughed.

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6 Comments

  • Reply deborah gregory September 28, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    What an amazing story teller you are Kristen! Your Grandpa sounds like an amazing man.I hope you continue to write and share your journey in New Zealand.

    • Reply Kristen September 28, 2012 at 10:43 pm

      Thank you so much! He was a great man, and will definitely be missed.

      I created this blog to share our NZ adventures with friends & family while we’re gone, and although I haven’t really publicized it yet, feel free to subscribe. I’m trying to update more frequently!

  • Reply Michelle's Tasty Creations October 2, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    Kristen,
    I enjoyed reading about Uncle Vern. I remember all the stories he always told of his very eventful life growing up. You have the same wonderful story telling way as he did. We are so grateful to have had Uncle around so long and been a part of his life.

    Whenever I talk about him I always mentioned his hair. lol “Ya know my Uncle with the buzz cut” etc. I can remember when I was little going to their house in CV and he would always let me feed the Koi fish in the back yard. And when we lived in Oroville we got to visit with him and Auntie a lot more. We have such wonderful memories of them both.

    Thanks so much for sharing. I love your blog and will be happy to read it often and hear about your adventures in NZ.

    Hugs,
    Michelle (Day)

    • Reply Kristen October 2, 2012 at 9:40 pm

      Michelle,

      Thank you the compliments, and for sharing sweet memories of your own! I loved reading them.

      Hugs back,
      Kristen

  • Reply Michelle's Tasty Creations October 2, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    Kristen,
    I enjoyed reading about Uncle Vern. I remember all the stories he always told of his very eventful life growing up. You have the same wonderful story telling way as he did. We are so grateful to have had Uncle around so long and been a part of his life.

    Whenever I talk about him I always mentioned his hair. lol “Ya know my Uncle with the buzz cut” etc. I can remember when I was little going to their house in CV and he would always let me feed the Koi fish in the back yard. And when we lived in Oroville we got to visit with him and Auntie a lot more. We have such wonderful memories of them both.

    Thanks so much for sharing. I love your blog and will be happy to read it often and hear about your adventures in NZ.

    Hugs,
    Michelle (Day)

  • Reply Karin Murray October 8, 2012 at 2:28 am

    Kristen, You have such special memories of your Grandpa. What a wonderful relationship you had with him. You will treasure those memories forever. Karin

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