Anyone that follows me on facebook saw that my grandfather passed away yesterday. I didn't know him well but I would like to share what I did know. It is going to be rough, and spotty and not necessarily completely accurate. It's from my memory, without calling family to back up the facts.
See, I didn't know him well. It's hard to mourn someone you barely knew, but it still hurts. Leonard Stamper, otherwise known as Pete, was from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. His mother's name was Lee Ilya and she was a 6 foot tall red head. I'm giving her name for my first daughter, because from the time I heard it, I knew I loved that name. My grandfather and grandmother divorced when my mother was young. Their relationship was tumultuous and certainly not monogamous, as my mother discovered in her 40's that she was named after a woman he met in a bar. My family likes to keep it classy.
My mom remembers sitting on his shoulders as a little girl, but I didn't meet him in person until I was in college. In high school I got mail from him. I guess my mom talked to him about my liking to collect quarters, and one of his hobbies was collecting coins. I received a box in the mail, and it had some proof sets of the quarters that had been minted that year. These coins are the only gift I ever received from him, and I thank him for fostering a love of coin collecting in me. My collection is tiny, mostly still the things that he sent me, and I value it highly.
I met him over a summer vacation from college. My brother came upstairs and woke me up saying something about a strange man yelling at the door. My parents weren't home at the time and I was confused as to a. why there was some strange man at the door and b. why the hell my brother wouldn't take care of it. I managed to pull myself out of bed and head downstairs to figure out what the hell was going on. He had a red truck, and drove straight up from TX to Ohio to bring my mom a box of pictures. Family history. My mom loves to study history and geneology and it's fitting that he gave them to her. In my sleep fogged brain, I couldn't figure out what he was yelling. Actually..it was probably his damn accent, but he was yelling "auuuuuuuuuuud?! Auuuuuuuuuuuuud?!" one of the only people allowed to call my mom that, and not get kicked.
My grandfather was a Southern man through and through. He was so Southern, it oozed out of him. His accent was so thick you could cut it with a knife, and talking to him on the phone was almost impossible. Talking to him was like talking to a southern stereotype, and I had a damn hard time not laughing at him. Oh, who am I joking, I totally did.
One thing I hated about my grandfather, was his racism. I deplore racism, and perhaps one of the reasons that my mother was so vehement about teaching us about the evils of racism was because of her father. He was a Korean War POW, and perhaps that experience had some part in his racism, but I really think it was just growing up in the segregated South and being too stubborn to care or change. When we were looking through the pictures that he brought us, he said something and used the n-word. I had literally never heard someone drop a racial slur like that, and without thinking about it, blurted out something along the lines of "we don't use that language in this house, and if you want to you can leave!" I took him (and myself) by surprise and he apologized and said, "that was just what we called people back then" and he knew it wasn't right. You would think that my parents would be angry that I spoke to an elder like that, but my mom still tells this story. I think she was glowing with the pride that I stood up for something that she impressed so strongly into us.
The next time I saw him was my cousin's wedding. I don't think it was the same summer, but it very well may have been. I remember asking if he'd seen my grandmother, and he commented that he hadn't seen her in (trying to do math in my head....) 40? years. I was walking next to him, and pointed her out to him. He grunted in approval and commented that "she held up pretty well over the years." Is that a Southern compliment?
He died of lung cancer. Smoking cigarettes for half a century (plus) can and will kill you. He battled this disease for most of the last decade, and it finally took him. I truly believe that he came to see us years ago because he thought it was going to die then, and he needed to make peace before he left this world. In the last decade, he managed to make peace with his daughters and foster some sort of relationship with all of them. He finished what he set out to do, and it was okay for him to go. He had a DNR. He wanted his passing to be just that, not a tug to stay on this plane of existence, but an acceptance that death will take us all.
In a weird twist of fate, my wonderful friend's father passed away yesterday and we had a long discussion last night and I was mourning his passing only to wake up this morning and find out that my grandfather had passed away. It has been a strange, and a bit surreal of an experience.
Today my 5 year college reunion starts, followed by Slumber Parties training, work, a party and finally my trip to Oregon. Hopefully I can write more there, but until then I bid you adieu and leave you with this prayer: