Thick, squarish glasses perched on a hawkish nose; five white hairs, bravely alone atop his head; age-thinned plaid shirts partnered by the gray cardigan that went with everything; the easy-flashing smile, revealing antique fillings — and wrinkled face never far from that hearty, oh-so-desirable laugh.
In fact, when I think of Grandpa, the first thing that comes to mind is his mischievous laugh, leaping out of him but still reserving that little hint of a prank well-concealed — or one about to be born.
The second thing that comes to mind when I think about Grandpa is how much he loved (and still loves) Grandma. I cannot remember when I first heard the story of how they met — Minnesota German and Pennsylvania Slovak, brought together by a World War and some scheming Lutheran church ladies — but now I have heard it told so many times that it seems I have always known.
When I think of how blessed I am, he says, that a beautiful lady from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, would come all the way across the country just for me–. He still tears up every time he tells their story, worn smooth and warm and familiar by countless repetitions, familiar like the fthppp of the playing cards as he shuffles them to deal another hand of Cribbage.
He cries a little more, now she is gone. Talks a little more of death and heaven, as if those are now his reality, which, in a way, they are.
Someday soon, he says, I won’t be around anymore–, and this repeated phrase, more than anything, betrays the creeping of his heart towards eternity.
The thick, work-weathered hands still shuffle the cards, but now the fthppp is accompanied by a wince.
Can you shuffle those for me once? My arthritis is giving me trouble.
I take the cards, begin to shuffle as he taught me. Split, shuffle, bridge. I smile, crack a joke about my impending victory, and am rewarded by that laugh, that infectious laugh. I wonder if that laugh is what brought my grandmother to Minnesota.
Ding, ding, ding. The grandfather clock begins to strike the hour. I straighten out the cards, and deal.