Elmer Childers, October 3, 1922 – May 22, 2013. WWII veteran, former POW, and awarded a Purple Heart, among other decorations, for his service to his country.
Today my maternal grandfather passed away. He was the last of my living grandparents and the one I knew the least. Funny that he should outlive all of my grandparents but I feel I barely knew him. I felt rather guilty that when I received the call this evening from my step father that I wasn’t surprised or saddened by the news. Maybe it was because he was almost 91 years of age which by today’s standards isn’t necessarily that old. But to be honest my main concerns are directed to my mother, who isn’t in the greatest of health herself and I am being forced to face her mortality. I will be selfish for her tonight; because in the last year she has already lost her older sister. My aunt Marilyn wasn’t in the best of health either, but her death certainly wasn’t expected and during her long stay in the hospital everyone just assumed that she would take a turn for the best and come home to be with her husband of 50 years and take care of her two children and gaggle of grandchildren. So now less than a year later, my mom’s father passes away, unexpectedly to most.
I can remember a time when all of my grandparent’s were living…hell, they were my age. All four of them in the Childers’ basement, playing cards and drinking beers, smoking cigarettes and telling tall tales. I can remember my cousins and I creeping down and sitting on the stairs to hear what grown ups talked about when kids weren’t around. Laughing when they laughed, not knowing why we were because we didn’t get those jokes back then.
The first of my grandparents passed when I was seven years old. Her name was Wanda Childers and I thought she looked like a movie star. There was a picture of her when she was younger that hung on the wall in the hall. It was a black and white photo, but had been painted by the photographer, I guess this was a common practice back then. Her lips where bright red and she had think dark brown hair that waved over her eye like a glamorous actress from the forties. I remember she had a bright red and black poppy on her blouse. I loved this woman. Her kitchen always smelled like coffee and hot dogs. There was always a pot of coffee perking on the counter and she had a rotisserie that always seemed to have hot dogs in it.
She had cancer for a quite while I guess and we grandchildren had not been told. When I got older some of the things she did in those last memories I have of her make sense now. The basement at my maternal grandparents house was always the center of the family’s world. It was a fully finished basement, with sea foam greenish walls and a checkered floor (remember this was the early 70’s). It had been many things, a daycare I believe at one time, home to foster kids, playground to grandchildren, party place for family gatherings. The main room of the basement had been a living room, a bedroom and a magic fantasy place for us kids. It was the place to be. Two of my cousins, Angie and Jenny and I decided one day to help my grandma by “rearranging” the furniture in the basement and rearrange we did. I had never seen my grandmother so mad; actually I don’t think I had ever seen my grandmother mad ever. But this time, I saw the plastic alarm clock in her hand one moment and the next shattered into a million pieces on the floor. After demanding we put the room back the way we found it, I managed to pick up as many pieces of that clock I could find. My cousins had went home and I headed upstairs to leave with my mom, trying to sneak the paper sack out under my shirt. My grandma seeing this asked my what I had and held her hand out. I handed her the bag. She just stared into the bag and said, “What’s this?”
“I’m going to fix your clock.” I replied. She laughed, sat the bag on the counter and pulled me into a hug. That’s the last memory of my grandma before she went into the hospital. That cold January day I sat in the my biological father’s car waiting for him to come out of the house to take my brother, sister and I on his weekend visit; when he got into the car he said, “Your grandma died.” That’s it. That’s all he said. I cried to myself all the way to his house.
September 16, 1986, my step father came into my room before the sun came up. I didn’t even wait for him to say anything I just said, “Grandpa died, didn’t he?” He said, “Yes” and left the room. I just said, “Goodnight Grandpa.” to myself.
When most girls would be celebrating a right of passage, I was in the midst of crying relatives and half hearted Happy Birthdays…they didn’t mean to be insensitive; but wishing someone a Happy Birthday at your grandpa’s funeral, probably not the best sentiment.
I have pretty cool memories of my Grandpa Barger and I probably have better memories of him then most. He was just cool. He was always scruffy faced and whiskers tickled. The only thing I remember him really sitting down and eating was beans and cornbread and eating onion slices. He was always in his shop tinkering with something and when I came to visit he would say, “Get in the truck Squeak, we are going to town!” I would jump in and we would head to KFC and pick up some gizzards and then down to the general store where he would let me put in the coins, open the glass door and pull the glass bottles from the holes in the machine. He would pop the tops on the side of the machine and then we would drive down to the creek that ran under the bridge and eat our gizzards and drink Big Red. After we finished, he would watch as I waded in the creek collecting tiny shells and try to catch crawdads without getting my fingers snipped at.
When we found out about his cancer I was convinced that he would live a long time. My step dad’s mom had lived years after finding out about her cancer and I was convinced that Grandpa would too. But he didn’t. The last time I went to see him, he didn’t know who I was. He was an awesome man, I wished my biological father had grown up to be more like him…but he didn’t.
His wife Margie died many years later, in 2001. I had already became a mother myself and had gotten a life of my own. My paternal grandmother, well I know her children loved her and she had her favorite grandchildren, but I know why my biological father did not turn out like his father because he turned out like his mother. At this point in my life my two favorite grandparents had already been long gone and I wondered if the meaner you were the longer you lived. I wanted to love this woman, she wasn’t the kindest woman I had ever known but she was my grandma and I loved going to her house. She was a great cook, a hard worker and she had a hard life. She was always doing something out in the yard, gardening, pulling weeds, something. Of course I have fond memories of her, but most of the memories I have of her is gossiping about her family…I always imagined her to be the neighbor you always saw in old television sitcoms…the one that hung out at the back fence telling all the juicy gossip she knew and giving out back handed compliments left and right.
She died in a nursing home in Ellettsville after a long illness. I went to visit her a few times to take my daughter to meet her and give her a picture of us to put among the rest of her family pictures next to her bedside. She wasn’t the grandma I knew all of those years. She was nice and caring to everyone around her…all the time. It was like someone reached in her head and flipped a switch. After she died several CNA’s had told me that she was one of the sweetest woman they had ever cared for. They meant it too. As stunned as I was at these compliments, I smiled and nodded and thanked God for allowing her to show kindness to people and that the ones that spent her last days with her thought she was the loveliest woman. I loved her, I did. I loved her because my aunts did and when she died, I cried for them.
So now twelve years later, my final blood related grandparent has passed away peacefully in his sleep. He was recuperating from a short illness at a hospital in Greenwood and it was expected that he would return to his wife Dorothy at his retirement village in Daviess County soon. My memories of him are mostly from my childhood when my Grandma Childers was still living. I remember him in his coin shop that was in their house in Bloomfield. I remember him sitting at the kitchen table in the morning in his white wife beater shirt (all the men wore these under their dress shirts back then) and when he answered the phone on the wall he said, “Yellow?” I remember him in his chair and my grandma in her chair, she would be sewing or knitting and they would be watching Lawrence Welk because she wanted to…he would rather be watching Sonny and Cher, but Grandma wouldn’t let him because Cher wasn’t proper! Ha ha.
He was a World War II Veteran, a POW who lost his sight and had it restored by a doctor in Germany, he received a Purple Heart and many other honors for his service to our country. He lost his oldest daughter Marilyn just nine months ago. A parent should never lose their child no matter the age. He has three surviving children, Marjorie, Steve and Tondra. His grandchildren are (Marilyn & Gene) William, Michelle, (Marjorie & Daniel) Kristina, Anthony, Tracy, (Tondra & David) Angela, Jennifer and Davey and their husbands/wives. He has a multitude of great grandchildren and a handful of great, great grandchildren.
So my daughter calls me and she is crying. Crying so hard and there is nothing I can do. She is like me. She isn’t crying because she knows her Great Grandpa Childers, she is crying because she knows my mom is sad and she is crying for her. She is certainly my child. So tomorrow night I will make the trip to Greene County to do whatever is needed of me and try to make everyone’s like a little less stressed if I can. So I won’t feel bad for not being sad he has died, but will use this strength to be there for my family when they are sad about this passing. He lived a long life and was a hero to most; he wasn’t always a great parent, but who is?
So tonight I am going to imagine all of my grandparents and my aunt up in Heaven sitting around a table, all young and in perfect health, playing Euchre, sipping beer, making fun of us poor souls down here on Earth who are finding a new wrinkle, a few gray hairs and feeling every ache and pain!
Grandpa Barger will look over at Grandpa Childers and say, ” ‘Bout time you got here! How about another round of Euchre?”
My Grandma Wanda and Me below her…You can see where I get my eyes and lips 🙂