Pappy Sands, the Stories We Tell, & Remembering the Good

Pap2My Pappy Sands passed away on Sunday night, January 27th.

Alzheimers had slowly been stealing him from us for more than a year, but his sudden, rapid decline in recent days caught us by surprise. At Christmas, his family had gathered around him to sing carols together–and he sang along, knowing the words. In fact, when I greeted him in December, he kidded with me about wanting to call me Betty. Maybe it was confusion. Or maybe he was cracking jokes. Either way, he was in good spirits.

Pappy Sands and Grandma Bev, his wife, owned a campground in New Hampshire. Throughout my childhood, we often drove the nine-hour trip north through the night to visit in the summer, especially over my birthday, the day before Independence Day. Flipping through his old photo albums, there were an inordinate number of me opening birthday presents year after year after year.

Pappy and Grandma were snowbirds in the winter, and eventually retired to Florida. We frequently drove south to Florida–again through the night–to celebrate the Christmas holiday in the warmer weather.

So yes, lots of pictures of those Christmases, too. One year, for some unknown reason, I had a Christmas sticker on my forehead in every single photo. Why I put it there in the first place, I don’t know. Why nobody insisted I remove it after the first few photos, I really don’t know.

Pap1The thing is, we spent a lot of time with these grandparents, considering we never lived in the same state. My brother even worked at the campground a few summers when he was a teenager.

But when I sat down to try to think about what memories or vignettes to share at his memorial service, I really struggled. Certainly I remember Pappy from my childhood. I remember the campground. The floating dock and lake. His house. The golf carts and the CB radio. The shower house and the cold cement under the ping-pong table. And the Swedish fish at the candy counter, one penny each for family members. (I even wrote a blog post way back when about Swedish fish and Pappy’s campground.) In Florida, I remember going to Sea World and Universal Studios. Snorkling with the manatees. Watching TV in his coach bus.

But none of those are stories, just momentary flashes, and none of them exactly feature Pappy.

The thing is, the stories I did remember about Pappy weren’t that flattering, to be honest. Pappy had a temper. My dad is strong-willed. You can put two and two together.

But I loved my grandparents, as all grandchildren do. I wrote letters to them. Dear Pappy Sands and Grandma Bev, I wrote. Hi! How are you? I am fine. Those sorts of letters.

Somewhere in my teenage years, however, I began to realize that my grandfather was not a happy person. He had his own struggles I hadn’t known when I was a child. One of my earliest poems was about him and his anger. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, my awareness of his weakness and struggles began to color my earlier, happier memories.

This happens sometimes. The stories we tell about the present change the memories we have of the past.

I began to re-write my memory and only see him in the past as an angry person.

This is not fair, but it is true.

Last week, the beanster and I headed back to Pennsylvania to be with family in the wake of Pappy’s death. She was a pleasant distraction for my dad, chattering away in gibberish as she does and flapping her arms with a big smile on her face whenever her grandpa came near. I got to visit with my aunts and uncles as they went through old photos to display during the memorial service.

We spent a lot of time talking honestly about Pappy.

He was an ornery son of a gun, but he was also a lot of good things. I enjoyed hearing the stories and also looking through the decades of pictures, which reminded me of the Pappy I knew when I was a kid, the Pappy I had forgotten about since I got old enough to carry around emotional baggage of my own.

Though he lived far away, he came to important milestone events–weddings, graduations, holidays, birthdays. He had a fun, goofy side. He loved his grandkids and was proud of his children, even if he didn’t always know how to show it. He was also proud of his boat. He loved to hear the Family Circle sing. He loved Grandma Bev. He wore the color red. A lot. He took lots of pictures. He worked really hard at the campground.

This is the story I’m telling now about my Pappy Sands, the story I want to color my memories: He loved us.

Even so, I never did come up with a story to tell at the memorial service, though.

Instead, I talked about how I remembered sending letters to Pappy and Grandma when I was a little girl. I don’t remember ever receiving letters back from them, which seems strange. Certainly if I sent them letters, they would have replied, don’t you think? I began to think I’d imagined the whole thing. So I asked Grandma Bev if she remembered my letters, and she didn’t. I called my mom and asked her. She didn’t remember it either. Nor did my dad.

But, then, lo and behold, my dad was flipping through Pappy’s Bible one day last week, and he found this note.

dear pappy

I probably wrote this to him during a church service of some sort (hence, the numbered lines for prayer requests). And he kept it tucked away in his Bible for the last two decades or so.

Did I write letters to them? Actual letters? Sent through the mail? I don’t know. Memories are funny things.

But I think I’ll just go ahead and remember that I did.

And I’ll go ahead and remember the good things about Pappy Sands.

Those are the stories worth telling.

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26 comments on “Pappy Sands, the Stories We Tell, & Remembering the Good

  1. Craig says:

    This is beautiful, friend. Thank you.

  2. Marjorie says:

    Thank you for sharing Elizabeth. This was beautiful! It made me think of my grandparents and the memories I have of them. Thank you again!

    • elizabeth says:

      Thanks, Marjorie. It’s so nice to hear from you. It seems ages since I’ve seen you. I always appreciate your kind words and encouragement.

  3. Liz's Dad says:

    Thanks Liz, you did a nice job of capturing what many have dealt with as they remembered Dad. My last year with him was a good time in spite of watching his decline. I feel honored to have had the extra time to be with him. love you!

    • elizabeth says:

      I feel really fortunate to have gotten to spend some good quality time with him over the last year, too, as we visited and stayed with you in an extra-full house, at times. 🙂 I loved seeing his sweetness and humor surface, even as he became more ill.

      I’m so privileged to have parents who care for others selflessly.

      Love you, too.

  4. Aunt Diana says:

    Hey Liz, I really enjoyed this!! You shared the essence of what it was like to be Pappy’s grandchild and the struggle that it brought with it. But when it is all said and done……He was loved by all his grandkids and the wonderful memories that he provided to all of us will be what we cherish for a lifetime. Love you bunches!

  5. Brad Brown says:

    Your Grampa was quite a character. I enjoyed many encounters with him and he never let me relax and let my guard down. We battled over “EVERYTHING” and ended up laughing over nothing. When I walked away I said I would NEVER come back, but I always did, because I loved that man inspite of himself. lol. I was rewarded, because I came to know and love his family and further rewarded to become a part of his family. Your Grampa will forever be in my life and heart. The campground remains, the family remains and he will live on through them. Brad Brown

    • elizabeth says:

      Haha. Yes, he was a character. I probably take after him more than I realize. 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by, Brad. Glad you found the post.

  6. Brent Woodward says:

    That was simply beautiful, Elizabeth..

    • elizabeth says:

      Thanks, Brent. Glad you found this post. And commented!

      I hope you and your family are well. I’m pretty sure our paths haven’t crossed in at least ten years…?

  7. stephen says:

    Well, written. Your way with words always astounds me.

    Great job capturing his character. And yes, he was a character. I think we get it naturally.

  8. Cheryl Ibberson says:

    This is beautiful! The service captured the life of your Pappy Sands in an amazing tribute. There are two side of all of us, and the words offered there and here remind us all that God loves the whole person! It was good to see you again.

  9. Stephenie says:

    Oh Lizzy your Amazing! I too struggled remembering good things! Lots of memories of TT and Beverly Hall and late nite patrols ,but not any particular story or gushy feelings! But as I sat at the memorial service all my “Not so Pleasant” memories were forgotten and all the re-telling of everyones memories and stories consumed me!! Good Job Liz, well written! Love Ya

  10. Aunt Cheryl says:

    Liz,
    Thanks so much for sharing this….you captured the truth of Dad’s memorial.. We are all imperfect and are thankful that we are loved in spite of that. Amazing Grace!! You are so good at conveying the feelings that I can’t seem to write. We are so blessed to have the family that we have, each member!! Love Ya!!

  11. Terry Gerlarneau says:

    Yes, Mr. Gene Sands, your Pappy, I will never forget him. He was my elder, my Dad’s boss and than my boss when I became old enough to work. I respected him and learned allot. He was in my eyes back than a perfectionist. I knew him for over 30 plus years. He, along with his family, that means you (lol) was instrumental in me finding the Lord. Amen. May the happy memories shine through and may we all be blessed knowing that he is with the Lord.

  12. Jerry and Dianne Lakeman says:

    Liz what a beautiful tribute you gave of your Pappy. You were so honest with love. Jerry and I were friends of Gene and Bev in NewHampshire when they had the campground. We spent many a day or night at the campground sharing our lives and our heartbreaks with each other Gene was a man we just made a decision to love and see him through Gods eyes. He loved Bev so much. She did everything possible to make him happy. She was the brightness to his day.. Gene and I would spar back and forth with words I believe he loved doing that with me. We had the privelege of going off with Gene and Bev on there maiden voyage with there big brand new motor home. It was a winter weekend in New Hampshire . He took us to North Conway the first night and we all froze he was figuring out the heating system. It was so snowy and cold but oh how we laughed . My last memory of Gene and Bev was after we moved to florida they came to spend a few days with us,but poor Bev got sick and we spent hours in the ER and then they felt they needed to go on there way.Gene was so attentive to Bev. I loved that about him. Well just wanted to share some special moments Jerry and I had with your Pappy who loved to talk of his grandchildren,so Liz God removes the not so good memories but leaves us with the sweetness. God only sees good and loves all his children.

  13. Uncle Bob & Aunt Kathy says:

    Liz, sincere sympathy to you and Jon and to the whole Sands’ family. You write beautifully. Enjoyed reading about your memories of your Pappy Sands. You’re in our thoughts and prayers. Love, Uncle Bob & Aunt Kathy

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