Papa and Cierstin, his Little Angel
I have fond memories of my grandpa sitting in his La-Z-Boy recliner which sported a custom-fit, patchwork patterned sleeping bag with a metal zipper (the Snuggie precursor).
On the opposite side of the living room, my grandma had an exact replica. Every day they'd burrow into their cotton nests, tucking their feet beneath the warm padded blanket, folding the open sides inward and zipping themselves in halfway . The chairs almost always seemed to be in a reclined position, providing a glimpse of the dark metal, mechanical under-workings.
Back then my grandparents had a little black and white toy fox terrier named, Muffin (they also had one before named Mitsy, but I hardly remember her). Muffin loved cuddling close to grandma and grandpa. With her front paws, she'd scratch at the blanket arranging it to her liking; then, she'd walk around in circles until she found the perfect spot to nestle; finally, she'd plop down and close her heavy eyelids for a warm, cozy nap.
That dog was finicky - a princess of sorts - but grandma and grandpa didn't mind.
While relaxing in his chair, grandpa would open up the Chicago Tribune newspaper and get lost in the stories. He worked for WGN his entire professional career, as an engineer and a camera man for the Cubs, the White Sox, the morning kids' programming and the very early morning farm report with Orion Samuelson. He single-handedly provided for his family of nine - seven kids and two adults.
Sometimes when my sister Julie and I had the day off of school he'd help my single, working mom out by bringing us to work with him. On several occasions, he magically got us into the Bozo show where we were selected from the audience to announce cartoons and play relay games - often winning Big League Chew, Bun candy and board games.
We always knew he loved us, but he was not an emotionally warm, doting grandfather.
There was only one time I remember sitting down and having a real conversation with him. I had been assigned to write a report about my grandparents and their experience learning about the attack on Pearl Harbor, WWII and the Depression. I cherished that interview; even at my young age, I knew his answers were a priceless piece of our family history. I have to admit, imagining my grandpa as a young man was and still is difficult for me. I don't know why exactly; I can't put my finger on it. Maybe it's because I've only known him as my grandpa and honestly for the last 30+ years of my life - to me - he's kind of looked exactly the same.
Over-the-years tons of things have happened: my grandparents legally separated just before their 50th wedding anniversary (crazy, huh?); my grandfather became a nomad drifting from one family member's house to the next, until finally he decided to settle down in Springfield, IL (close to my mom); my grandma passed away after a four-year battle with cancer, and my grandpa became a great-grandpa.
When my 8 year old niece, Cierstin, was born my grandpa was there; he held her almost immediately. I believe that moment changed his entire world.
He looked at Cierstin with awe and amazement. Back when his children were born, fathers weren't invited into the delivery room right away. He'd never experienced the power of holding a newborn less than a few hours old.
The moment that changed everything
Since that day, he has always affectionately called Cierstin his Little Angel. She brought life, love and purpose back into his heart. Of course, he's always loved his children and grandchildren, but he has a deep, almost supernatural connection with his first great-grandchild.
He often comments on how he regrets that he missed out on his own children's youth. He shakes his head, with pain in his eyes, and says softly beneath his breath, "I was just so busy working; I missed it all."
His love for his great-grandchildren has only grown stronger with each new addition - all six of them - Cierstin, Atia, Coen, Paxton, Asher and Jordan. He'll tell anyone who will listen about all of their glorious milestones. "Did you know that I was there when Cierstin took her first steps? She walked towards me. Right towards me!" he says oozing with pride.
I love the way my kids interact with their great-grandpa. Though my childhood memories are of grandpa on the Lay-Z-Boy chair with Muffin, my children's memories are laced with cuddling, touching his scratchy beard followed by giggles, doing puzzles, attending festivals, taking walks and always setting a place for him at holiday meals and significant events.
It's incredible to witness someone's second chance at love, and even sweeter when it's someone you love. My 84 year old grandpa is living his second chance. He's seeing the world through his great-grandchildren's eyes; he's experiencing the moments he never realized he'd missed; he's creating those special memories our children will cherish forever, and it's all thanks to... his Little Angel.
My Next Blog > "Playing with Others: Smiles and Giggles"