My grandfather, Leonard Peter Meyer, died last Tuesday. He was 94 years old, and had not been well for some time, so it was expected. But expected doesn't necessarily make it easier. I chose not to go to the funeral, not just because I'd probably have my pay docked, but also because I don't want my last memory of him to be anything other than what he was: a tiller of the soil. A farmer. I think that the day he sold his farm was the beginning of the end.
There are people out there that you think will live forever just by sheer force of will, and my grandpa was one of them. He came from a family of farmers. He had an eighth grade education, but he still managed to run a small farm and work several jobs. He was married for 70 years and supported a family of eleven children. He raised his own animals and grew his own crops. If there was something that he wanted, he usually built it. How many people do you know who can do that? His gift certainly did not pass on to his granddaughter, if my lifetime ban on the use of power tools is any indication.
My grandfather poured the concrete for the basement of their home in one piece, he told me proudly. The basement had a fully functioning kitchen, and that's where the family would often gather for Christmas and other events, because there was a long table down there that my grandfather probably built. The basement was perfect for summer days--in a home without central air, it was often the coolest part of the house.
My grandfather would sometimes take me with him when he went out, mostly to feed stores. It was a sweet deal--I got candy from the shop owners, and my grandpa got to talk. Grandpa loved to talk and tell stories. He was very sociable off the farm. During the day while he was working the farm, he didn't talk much. I think that he was focused on his duties and had no time for foolish children. But after he'd cleaned up, had a meal and nodded off sitting in his chair, he'd relax a bit and talk. We'd sit out on the porch swing and he'd tell me about how he would ride a horse to school or go in a horse drawn cart. The house he grew up in did not have indoor plumbing, as I found out when I went to visit his mother, my great grandma. Grandpa used to tease me about falling into the hole in the outhouse; perhaps something similar happened to him?
Lenny liked dogs, and my childhood favorite was Ginger the beagle, of which there were three incarnations. My grandpa raised hogs, and let us carry them scraps. When we accidentally on purpose caused a chute to roll down the hill and almost into the barn, he just laughed. He never said a word when we would practice our hog calls to see how fast the hogs arrived, but he made very clear that we were never to enter the hog pens. And all the grandchildren listened, because he hardly ever told any of us no.
My grandfather used to set me in front of him on the tractor while he drove. Sometimes he let me steer, especially if my mother wasn't looking. My grandpa decided that he was going to "teach: me how to drive when I was 16, never mind that I already had my license. I went racing around on the gravel while he 'supervised', and I narrowly missed a cow in the middle of the road while he told me how to brake on gravel.
When an actual guy my age showed up on the farm one day, and I made my grandmother take me out into the field to meet him, my grandfather was tickled. He would tease me about "That Cransby boy", letting me know what that young man was up to for years after. Once he started wearing hearing aids, my grandpa was notorious for turning them off when he wanted some quiet, and sometimes I secretly admired him for that.
When I brought my husband Larry to Quincy, my grandpa offered him some homemade raisin wine. Before he poured the shot glasses, Grandpa looked Larry right in the eye, his best smile in place.
We drank raisin wine that was likely higher in alcohol content than the finest whiskey. To his credit, my husband was able to remain standing after the first drink. I think that it impressed Grandpa that Larry didn't keel over after two shots.
My grandfather wasn't perfect. He thought that women weren't capable of managing money. He expected a clean house and a meal on the table when he was ready to eat, and didn't much care about mitigating factors like crying children. But he did the best he could, and that is all anyone can ask of him.
Rest in peace, Grandpa.