Dampa

My grandfather passed away last month. Had I told my grandfather I had a blog, he probably would have told me to get it checked out by a doctor, so this is an interesting forum to write about his passing. I’ve wanted to write something about him since it happened. After my grandmother passed away a few years ago, it had felt good to write something to say at her funeral. Because my grandfather was a veteran and the list is so long at Arlington Cemetery, his funeral service is not until this fall. He will be buried with my grandmother’s ashes.

Most people seem to give their grandparents a pass of sorts. For example, when my cousin wanted to move to San Francisco and my grandfather told us that San Francisco was 99% homosexual. “Where did you read that?” “In a magazine,” he told us. Or his habit of telling every African American staff member at their retirement home that they should play professional basketball. The guy was super old and from Tennessee. He probably wasn’t going to change much. He liked books about the Civil War. He voted Republican. When I was seven years old, he took me on a week long tour of cemeteries where all of my relatives were buried across the southeast of the United States. I probably would have preferred Disney World. I distinctly remember sitting in their back seat and listening to him tell me about the importance of family history (or as he pronounced it, “histree”). He took me to meet my oldest living relative, a woman named Ibby. She had a beard and the same birthday as me which she found endlessly hysterical.

He had three movies that he loved: A Man For All Seasons, On The Beach and My Fair Lady. These were unfortunately the only three movies he owned as well. I remember once watching On The Beach on Christmas Day, and joking with my father that we should sing “Walking in a Nuclear Winter Wonderland.” I tried to introduce him to movies that I loved, like The Jerk and Fletch. He would chuckle when the characters fell down or got hit in the head, but then would say they were “just clowns” and his patience would run out quickly.

It was always apparent that he loved us, but rarely apparent that he liked us. Each conversation was about structuring our futures. The importance of a good education. The importance of saving your money. The importance of knowing the history of your country. All things that are obviously important, but he never seemed to be able to let his guard down around us.

I suppose it’s not strange that he started to reach out after my grandmother died. Our two minute conversations turned into twenty minute conversations. He seemed genuinely more interested in my life. He tried hard to remember names of friends and girlfriends. He asked me about performing stand up comedy and what the lifestyle was like. You could tell he was sad, and pretty bored. He couldn’t drive anymore and had trouble getting around in general. At this point he was having more accidents. He had fallen in the shower once, as well as outside of a grocery store. Every time I spoke to him, he sounded more excited and almost desperate to talk.  Unfortunately, while I sensed that he was excited, he also sounded worn out, and couldn’t remember things as well. And finally, he was rendered very weak after a stroke. He told my father to pass along the message to my sister and I that he no longer wanted to talk on the phone. He died pretty soon after in his sleep.

Because of his accent, he pronounced my name “Ayyndrew” and my sister “Moy-ra.” I always really liked the way he said it. We called him Dampa because when my sister was a baby, she couldn’t pronounce the word “Grandpa”. Here’s a picture of us from about a year ago. Thanks for letting me talk about him.

3 responses to “Dampa”

  1. T-Mo says:

    I’m sorry to hear about your Dampa, Andrew. Thanks for sharing your memories. I had a similar relationship with my grandmother, the only grandparent I ever really knew. She was much more talkative than your grandfather, I think, but she never let her guard down either. Also, I had to give her a big pass on issues of race. Oh boy. I loved her all the same.

  2. jeremy says:

    Aw, condolences Andrew. This is heartbreaking and lovely and sweet…

  3. J-man says:

    It’s somehow comforting to know that other people have had complicated relationships with their grandparents. My maternal grandfather, a Polish Jew, was one of the most racist people I’ve ever met, but I loved him all the same. I’m sorry for your loss; thanks for writing about him.