17: Grandpa’s Last Visit

17: Grandpa’s Last Visit

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles and More

Grandpa’s Last Visit

My grandfather was a wonderful role model. Through him I got to know the gentle side of men.

~Sarah Long

I had always been extremely close to my grandfather. My family had moved from Chicago to Los Angeles when I was four, but we drove back every summer to visit my mother’s parents and all the assorted aunts, uncles, and cousins who still lived in Illinois.

As I got older, I was often sent back by train — the El Capitan, which I loved — to visit over the holidays or for my birthday. While I did visit with all the various relatives, my home base was always Grandma and Grandpa’s two-story brownstone. I can close my eyes and still see every single detail of the place — particularly the large kitchen where Grandpa and I would sit at the big, old wooden table and dip Grandma’s homemade bread into his giant coffee cup while he told me stories.

My mother had told me all about his past, but all he told me were magical stories about talking rabbits, elves, fairies and the angels that watched over kids like me. His stories always made me feel safe. At night, I would often slip out of my bed in the guest room, creep into Grandma and Grandpa’s bedroom, and make a pallet with my blanket and pillow so I could sleep next to Grandpa on the floor beside their bed. In the morning, I would either awaken on the living room sofa or on the guest bed. I never asked about it. I just accepted it.

As I grew older, my visits became fewer and farther between, but Grandpa always called me at least once a month. We’d spend far too long on the phone. I’d tell him what I was doing in school, if I’d had a recent crush or a broken heart, and what I was learning or dreaming about. He always listened and gave sage advice — with a twinkle of mischief in everything he said.

I had an ancient tintype that Grandpa had given me of when he was in the cavalry. It was very old and faded, but I cherished it. In the shot, he was very young, in full uniform. He sported a handlebar moustache and was standing in front of his horse.

Grandma and Grandpa came to visit us in California twice, but they didn’t like it much. While we took them to all the normal tourist sites, they preferred to stay at our house, cook and talk. Mom and Grandma owned the kitchen; Grandpa, Dad and I owned the back yard. The two men told stories while I listened, soaking up all the history and magic of bygone times.

By the time I was married and my children started to arrive, my grandparents were too old to travel. My mother went back east a few times to visit, but I was too busy with my own young family to travel, plus we really couldn’t afford it. I kept in touch with Grandpa by phone and made sure that he spoke regularly with my three girls. Of course, I told them about him, and repeated the stories that he’d told me. But, somewhere along the way, the old tintype of Grandpa was lost. My girls never got to see it.

By the late 1960s, Grandpa was well into his nineties and had suffered several strokes. One night in the 1970s, I woke to my youngest daughter gently pulling at my arm in the middle of the night. I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and asked her what was wrong. She said, “Mommy, there’s a nice man in the back yard. He wants to see you.”

“Honey, you’re just having a dream. There’s nobody in the back yard. The dogs would be barking,” I replied. “Just go back to bed. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

“I’m not afraid. He’s nice. He’s wearing funny clothes and tall boots. He has red hair and a big, curly moustache.” She motioned the image of a handlebar moustache on her own face. “He called me Dolly,” she added.

That got my attention. “Dolly” was the pet name my grandfather used for me. I slipped out of bed and went to the back door. I looked out and saw the Collies lying on the patio, looking at something near the garden. I could just make out a tall shadow.

I should have been afraid. I should have called for my husband. But suddenly I was enveloped in a warm, safe feeling. I stepped out into the back yard, and I saw him. He was in his full cavalry uniform, young and vibrant with his huge moustache. He smiled at me, and I walked over to him. But as I approached, he seemed to just evaporate. However, I remember feeling the warm touch of a hand on my face and soft words that seemed to be whispers on the night breeze: “I love you, Dolly.”

Then the vision was gone, and I went back into the house. I woke my husband and told him what had happened, but he just laughed and mumbled something about my vivid imagination, and said it was just a dream.

At that moment, our phone rang. It was my mother crying, telling me that my aunt had just called and told her that Grandpa had passed away from a stroke. Our dogs started to howl.

I might write it off as a dream, too, except for the fact that my daughter had never seen the tintype. She’d never seen her great-grandfather at all, let alone in a cavalry uniform with a handlebar moustache. And how did she know he had red hair when he was a young man? Even I never saw that. I had to ask my mother, who confirmed it. He had gray hair all of my life, and the tintype was black and white.

This happened over four decades ago, but it’s still as vivid a memory as if it happened last night. I know Grandpa came to say goodbye to me. I know he loved me as much as I loved him. And that’s the way I will always remember this strange and “other-worldly” event.

~Joyce Laird

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