My grandpa was a very social guy. Actually, "social" barely begins to describe him. He would talk to anyone, always ready with some useful advice or story, usually paired with a quippy comment or joke. Everyone liked him - visiting with Grandpa usually took a while, because there was always plenty to say and laugh about.
I don't think I realized how social he was when I was a kid - our visits were typically pretty short, and we stayed in their little white house on Bennett Ave during most of our time there. But thinking back now, there was an occassion that stands out, giving me insight into the kind of person Grandpa really was.
At some point in grade school, I was invited for an extended visit with Grandma and Grandpa, without my parents or younger brother. One evening, I asked Grandpa what we would do the next day. He rubbed his large hand over his stubbly chin slowly, and thought for a moment.
"Ohhhh," he drawled, "I suppose we'll go down to the Hy-Vee for breakfast."
HyVee? I thought. Why would you go to Hy-Vee for breakfast, when there are places like IHOP, or even McDonald's? I don't think I even realized at the time that Hy-Vee had a cafeteria nook - the only food we ever got at a grocery store, we had to take home and cook for ourselves! I remember being rather skeptical of Grandpa's so-called "plan" as I went to bed that night, sleeping in "my" room on the pull-out couch, surrounded by mounds of Grandma's sewing projects and miscellaneous supplies.
The next morning arrived and we set off for HyVee in Grandpa's long silver car. HyVee wasn't very far away - just down Bennett Ave, and tucked down in a little valley of stores.
We walked in and navigated our way to the dining area. I remember being a little stunned at how crowded it was. It seemed every booth and table were filled. Voices rose and fell as diners engaged in lively conversations.
"Lee!" Several voices called out warm welcomes to Grandpa, and hands stretched in greeting. He worked his way around the little dining area, offering nods of recognition and declarations of "mornin'". Several men razzed him about arriving so "late" - they had already had two cups of coffee! He put his arm around me and introduced me, as if to explain his tardiness. I stayed close to his side, uncomfortable with all the strangers, but secure under his arm. They may have been strangers to me, but not to Grandpa, not even the people he hadn't met yet.
We eventually found a table and sat down. We scanned the large menu hanging over the register. Well, Grandpa glanced at it, but he already knew what he wanted - eggs over easy, toast, bacon, and coffee. Plenty of coffee. He waited while I made my decision, then went up to the counter to place the order.
The cashier smiled broadly when she saw him approach. "Eggs over easy, Lee?" she asked, raising her voice to be heard over the crowd.
Grandpa grinned back. "Yeah, that'll do for starts." She chuckled and took the rest of our order. Grandpa made his way back to our table, stopping along to way to chat and clap a large hand on friends' shoulders. Just watching him talk and joke, it was easy to understand how he had earned the nickname "The Big Swede" in his younger days. Everything about him shouted gregariousness and genuine joy of life. The French use the term "joie de vivre", but this "Big Swede" embodied it.
Eventually our food was ready, and Grandpa brought it back to the table. We dug in, though the rest of us probably not as heartily as Grandpa. He loved to eat - I don't think he ever quite lost the appetite of the lumberjack of his youth. Soon he was mopping up egg yolk with his toast, while I had barely started. He leaned back and grunted his satisfaction, rubbing his hand over his round belly. He gave his stomach a final pat, and declared, "Well, time for more coffee!" and headed off for the coffee pot. But instead of bringing his mug to the counter, he went over and picked up the coffee pot and brought it back to the table to top off his cup. Then he started to walk back to return the pot to its station. But he didn't walk directly there. My eyes widened slightly as he made several detours, topping off several other people's mugs as well. Like the waiter who keeps your water glass constantly filled at a restaurant, Grandpa made his way around the entire dining area, providing refills of the steaming beverage for anyone who wanted more (and several who didn't, I think!)
As I watched several people hold up their mugs, waiting for Grandpa to make it to their tables, I had to ask Grandma if Grandpa actually knew all those people. She shrugged slightly and said non-commitally, "Probably," not even looking up from her plate. I took that to mean he probably did know almost everyone there, but it was also just as likely there were quite a few he didn't know. And it didn't really matter to her either way. That's just how he was.
When Grandpa returned to the table, I asked him why he filled all those people's mugs. He shrugged and said, "they looked like they needed more," and took a sip of his own mug. That's all there was to it. "They looked like they needed more."
To me, that kind of sums it up - the kind of person Grandpa was. Whatever someone looked like they needed, he noticed, and did his best to provide, whether that was a cup of coffee, a joke, some advice, some repair work, a hunting buddy, or a burly one-armed hug. That was my Grandpa. And the world is a better place for his place in it.
A couple of miscellaneous memories...
When I was engaged, I visited Grandma and Grandpa. I remember at the end of our visit, I gave Grandpa a hug and told him I looked forward to seeing him next at my wedding. He ducked his head, like he wasn't sure, and said, "Well, if I'm still around, I'll be there." I looked at him kind of shocked by the statement and said, "If you're still around!" And he said, "Well, you never know at my age." I informed him that he had better make it to my wedding, and to plan on being "around" to meet his first great-grandchild. That was in 1992. Obviously, he made it to my wedding, as well as my cousin's, and was "around" for the birth of four great-grandchildren.
Perhaps a strange thing I remember about grandpa is how hairy is arms were. I asked him once why they were so hairy, and he said, "Keeps me warm." I have recently noticed, much to his embarassment, my son's legs are rather hairy. That makes me smile, and think of Grandpa.