Nine years ago today we celebrated my Grandpa's last birthday on this Earth. We took pictures and he smiled when he opened his gift bag filled with limburger cheese and Miller High Life. I know it wasn't the gifts that made his days, but the Heinisch family visit. It was one of many that summer and fall. He had been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in the Spring and I wanted to make sure that we spent as much time as possible with him before he was called Home.
It amazes me that after nine years I can still cry when I think about that time period. My Grandpa was a modest man, but he was larger than life to me. His dedication to my Grandmother was incredible. He not only married her, but took responsibility for her four young children. Even though he later had his own children I never once felt that my Mom grew up in a blended family. He was her Dad and my Grandpa. It did not matter to me that we weren't related by blood. I thought the world of him. He never said the words, "I love you." He never had to. He spoke it with every one of his actions.
I will never forget the excitement on his face when he pulled in to my Mom's drive with a U-Haul. He and Parce had driven all night to get there. I was so glad that he was finally moving back home after a twenty year hiatus in Florida, and I know he was happy as well. The next seven years were a blessing and my children loved getting to spend time with Paw Paw. Before he died I remember being devastated that they wouldn't get to make more memories with him, but I did come to realize that the time they spent with him only increased the fond memories I had of our relationship as grandfather and granddaughter. He put up a good fight at the end and I appreciate that about him. Every day after his diagnosis was a blessing from God and I cherish them ever so much. There were a lot of lasts that fall that I got to be a part of. I was not only there for his last birthday, but I also gave him his last haircut, visited him on his last wedding anniversary and spent the evening with him on his last night here on Earth.
Although I never learned to love his taste for limburger cheese or salted beer, I did gain quite a bit from the time with my Grandpa. I learned love of country from his stories of World War II. I learned how to take pride in ones work, no matter how menial it may seem to others. I also learned how to tell a good story and to be a good listener. The best life lesson I learned from my days with him, however, was to love unconditionally. Happy Birthday "CrapPa" - I love you!