They may not have been the first three words I ever heard him say, but I probably heard him say “You wanna shot?” over a thousand times. With that face-brightening grin almost like the little boy who knows he got away with cookies from his mom’s cookie jar, he’d say, “I spend more money at Teddy’s Liquor than I do at the doctors.” And, for a long, long time that was true.
A great man died this week. He wasn’t famous, but he was of the same generation as Jimmy Carter, he had the same kind of work ethic and kindness, and they were the same age. As my grandson said last year on his great grandfather’s birthday, “He’s not just eight. He’s ninety-eight!”
When I married his son I got a family like no other. The marriage didn’t last, but my father-in-law never stopped caring. He embraced me whenever I visited and we shared so many interesting conversations. When I moved back to the Midwest with my new husband, he offered Gary a shot and they settled down and talked like old friends.
At a Christmas party one year I brought shepherd’s pie. After tasting it he asked me to go to the kitchen and get a container and put the rest of it in there for him to take home. When I told him people were still going through the line and maybe they’d want some, he said there was a lot of other food to eat. And so began the bi-annual trek from Oshkosh to Arlington Heights with shepherd’s pie, quiche, soups, and banana bread. As Gary and Jim drank their shots, I’d put the food into the freezer for him to eat whenever he wanted. He lived alone by choice and so having food to heat up was one tiny thing I could do for him. My son and his family took the last batch up, but of course we didn’t know it was the last time.
Gracious, kind, intelligent, a great father, a wonderful grandfather, a man of God and golf. If I interviewed candidates to be my children’s grandfather and my grandson’s great-grandfather I could never have found a better person.
I loved that he never stopped learning. Two years ago, when we could safely visit without masks, we arrived on the same day Grandpa was set to let the Monarchs go. He raised them with such love and care, and then he gently set them on the tree and smiled the biggest smile as they flew away to live their new lives.
On Monday he left the body that he no longer needed and off he flew to heaven. I will never make shepherd’s pie without a sense of loss. But this year when the Monarchs come to visit our rain garden I will smile and think of this extraordinary man who made the world a better place.