My 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.
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.
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.