My mom is on the way to pick me up, and then we're driving north! I'm very excited. It's been a long, hard week. Bass Lake is my happy place. :)
My paternal grandparents were everything to me growing up. My parents divorced when I was 9, and my dad lived with them for 4 years. They were during some very important, formative years for me. Every other weekend, I went to their house. Grandma would teach me to make muffins, walk to the library with me, introduce me to old musicals. Grandpa would give me popcorn in an old paper bag, tell me stories about his birds (he had dozens of bird houses and feeders in the backyard) and hold my hand as he told me stories of his childhood.
Every summer they lived in their trailer on Bass Lake. It was small, but cozy and cute. Every other weekend (plus a full week each summer) was spent sitting on the beach, feeding leftover pancakes to the bluegills, and tromping through the woods. There is no place I feel more "me" than at the lake.
My Grandpa was always plagued with health problems. He had 2 strokes, 3 heart attacks, open heart surgery, colon cancer, diabetes... but the old man just kept going. About two years ago, things changed. He had a hard time moving around. He was having major circulation problems due to his diabetes. We all knew his time was coming.
I was torn. I almost threw away a chance at a year in China so that I wouldn't miss his last days; but he was so proud that I was going that I couldn't do it. Two days before my flight, I went to say goodbye. He was sitting on his couch, watching some old John Wayne movie like he always was. I crawled up next to him and we held each other and wept. His last words to me were "I am so proud of you. Go have an adventure. When you get home, you can tell me all about it".
The following summer was the last one he spent at the lake. He was constantly emailing me, telling me about the humming birds and the new cat that was wandering the park. My Grandma said that it was amazing; he found a new strength that summer. He was walking around, spending time out on the boat, reconnecting with friends.
In January, a month before I returned home from China, I got the call from my mom. She let me know that he had died peacefully in his sleep. I couldn't go to school for two days. When I finally returned, my little students had all make me cards, drawn me pictures. My favorite little female student, Lily, came up and hugged me, and then started crying. I will never forget her simple, loving words. "Amanda, you are sad. I am sad, too. Your Grandpa is game over. I cry for you."
Call me crazy, but once I returned home, I started telling him a little about my trip every once in a while. I've told him about my students, about my travels, about the day I found out I had lost him.
This weekend, when I visit the lake, I will picture me dumping that pail of fish down the side of the hill and chasing after them; and I'll picture you sitting there laughing hysterically instead of helping.
I will also picture the two of us sitting out on the deck watching the stars and the heat lighting.
I love you, Red. You were not only the best Grandpa a girl/woman could ever have, you were one of the best men.