|Dr. Walter William Kelley|
June 23, 1915 - December 10, 2011
|My grandfather with his son and |
four of his five daughters in 1958.
|My grandfather and extended family at his 90th birthday party.|
|Here I am, at the age of three, taking my grandfather's blood pressure with the cuff |
from my Fisher-Price doctor's kit, proud to be playing doctor with a REAL physician!
He also loved to work in the yard and was especially proud of his roses, his lemons, his olallieberries (a relative of the loganberry) and his vegetables.
|The entire back fence of the large yard was lined with roses.|
|At his 50th Wedding Anniversary|
party in 1994.
|The two of us in 2008.|
But when I was growing up, he was simply "Grandpa."
|Teaching me how to swing a baseball bat in 1984...|
|...acting as raft for my sister and me while vacationing at Lake Havasu in 1985...|
|...helping us pick oranges in a neighbor's yard in '88...|
|...playing cards with me and my grandmother's aunt later that same year...|
|...posing with me and the rest of his grandchildren in 1994...|
|...and attending my high school graduation in 1999.|
And of course, Grandpa went hand-in-hand with Grandma. He once said that the two best decisions he made in life were becoming a doctor and marrying my vivacious, stylish, and loving grandmother, a woman I miss dearly.
|On Easter with three young daughters...|
|...on their 50th anniversary...|
|...sharing a kiss a few months later at their 50th anniversary party...|
|...and together in 1997. |
My grandmother's hair was still naturally black!
|My sister and my grandfather, taken this spring.|
When a man of 96 dies after living a very full and wonderful life, it is hardly a sad thing. In fact, for the last year or so, I'd been hoping he would die soon. He had always been a man of considerable wit and dignity; it was hard to see him lose both. I was very fortunate, though, that I got to give him two very special gifts before his memory crumbled, and in that way, I made my peace with his passing, even though it would be a couple more years before he died, and when he died, it would be two years since I'd last seen him.
When my family went down to visit him the summer of 2008, I brought Mouse with me. I was aware that the clock was ticking; it was unlikely my grandfather would live too much longer and so each visit to the house must be viewed as potentially my last. My love for the house where my mother grew up and my grandparents lived is profound, perhaps even more so than the house where I grew up and live now. It was the place where summer vacations happened, a beautiful home with a freezer well-stocked with ice cream treats for visiting grandchildren and beautiful, sun-lit yard perfumed by flowers. I decided to use Mouse to document the details of the place I loved so much and took more than four hundred pictures on that visit. My grandfather was very curious as to what I was up to and charmed by the images I showed him on the screen of my digital camera. From that, I got the idea of making a book for him filled with images of Mouse and the house where he'd lived for more than 50 years.
The resulting book had 50 pages filled with photos of Mouse and every corner of the house and yard. My grandfather absolutely loved it. He took it everywhere with him and showed it to everyone. He was so proud of me. I got to write, so to speak, a visual love letter to the house that both of us loved and was able to share it with him and he, in turn, was able to tell me how much it meant to him. We seldom get to give loved ones gifts that are so meaningful and because I had that chance, I am able to let him go with peace. I do hope to get back the copy I gave him, so I might be able to hold the volume he cherished and feel his love in every crease and mending of the well-loved volume.
|My own copy of the book is pristine; I hope to reclaim the much-loved copy I gave him.|
If that wasn't enough, I had the opportunity to give my grandfather a second gift. When I saw him the next summer, I was finishing up a children's book featuring Mouse and showed him some of the pictures and poems. Knowing that he would most certainly not live to see the book published, I had a copy printed and sent to him. I saved the voicemail he sent me; the quality is poor because I had to hold my cellphone to the computer's microphone to record it, but I knew I'd want to keep this record of his voice and what he said.
I got a migraine during that final visit in 2009, a headache that was a harbinger of the chronic migraines that would set in a few months later. My persistent headaches troubled him; he'd suffered from occasional migraines over the years, but he had never before encountered chronic ones, and his grasp on medical science was weakening. I spoke to him on the phone from time to time; he always seemed to know who I was, which, toward the end, was something. And now he is gone and the world has lost a man of intelligence and humor, but he was very, very old, and it was time for him to shuffle off this mortal coil.
Every time I get up from the dinner table to look up the origin of a word, I will think of him, as I will whenever I hear or read Shakespeare, or look at one of many Mouse photos I took at his house. In the years to come, I will continue to see him as he looked when reading the paper in his brown leather chair or wandering here and there in the yard, dead-heading his roses and fussing with the rain birds. I'll retain the memory of his gnarled brown hands holding one of his tweed caps and the way he'd play with the carved staff he used as a cane in later years. The day will come when the sound of his laugh will start to elude me, but I'll always remember the shape of his smile.
I love you, Grandpa, and now rest in peace.