It’s always a surreal experience when someone who’s always been there passes away.
For as long as I can remember, my grandpa Bob’s house has always been there. Tucked away in that sleepy town of Faribault, MN, a town so small you could forget it’s there sometimes. Tucked away in that old house with all of the wooden sculptures lining every sill and cupboard, where paintings of wise men and nature adorned the ageless walls, which was always so cold if not for the many blankets hidden away in the far reaches of the halls in closets, sat my grandpa, reading a book about the Templars.
My grandpa had a long and interesting life. He served in WWII, something I learned when he took our family to the beaches of Normandy for history lessons. A civil engineer by trade, Bob Cook contracted with the U.S. government, which took him all over the world. I remember he once took me out of school one day back in Switzerland, drove me to a place near where they used to live in Germany, and told me all about the history of the area. When he retired, he continued to travel, living in Syria for a time, and spending the rest of his time traveling the world with his wife, my grandma Betty. When she passed on several years ago, grandpa continued to travel, something I like to think reminded him of Betty, whom he loved dearly.
His life was not always a ray of sunshine though, as he battled Depression for many years. Grandpa had a lot of dark days, something I witnessed only once or twice. Towards the end of his life, he was battling several advanced stages of disease, which included Lymphoma, Leukemia, and Colon Cancer. By the end of his life, he was in pretty bad shape physically, between diseases, Shingles, hearing problems, knee replacements, and depressive tendencies.
What never changed however, was his mind. Grandpa had an amazing mind, the kind that always yearned to learn more, and to teach others what he knew. When I was a kid I was often bored by his long-winded lectures on certain topics. When I got older however, I started to really cherish them, particularly when he took us to Normandy and told us about WWII history. His mind was never broken or even damaged throughout his long life, and he was always perfectly coherent whenever I saw him.
What also never changed was his warmth. He had an incredible warmth to him, particularly towards kids and “puppy-dogs.” When I was a kid, I remember him affectionately calling me “Paterack,” something my brothers have ironically picked as a nickname for me. Despite his struggles, he always had the warmest smile whenever his family gathered. Whether it was watching the little ones play with the dogs, listening to what was going on in the adult’s lives, or simply sitting in his chair, basking in the light of his large family. Whenever times like this happened, grandpa always had the warmest smile, the smile of a man completely contented with his life, and couldn’t ask for anything more.
Tucked away in that never-changing house in the never-changing town of Faribault, grandpa lived his life quietly. Often doing work around the house, giving lectures elsewhere, or fishing at our family cabin. He died peacefully, a few hours after a choir sang to him, surrounded by his children.
For as long as I can remember, grandpa and that house have always been there. Whenever my family traveled to all the different places we’ve been, we always went back there for short periods of time. When I was a kid, I absolutely hated going there. The age, temperature, and creep factor of the house always had me begging my parents that we leave soon.
When I got older though, I started to think differently.
With the kind of life I live, moving all the time, never staying put for very long, that place was the one place where my feet always knew familiar ground. When I got older, I started to cherish the house. I started seeing the creepy masks on the walls as funny faces that welcomed me home. The paintings that used to give me nightmares as a kid now brought dreams of wise men traveling through the desert. The cold and dark of the house became warmth and light. The last time I was there, I remembered the times we went sledding in the backyard, played with his dogs in the basement, spent several weeks painting his entire house, and the many thanksgiving and Christmas dinners we’ve had there. Tucked away in that sleepy house, in that sleepy town, was one of the few places I could rest my head.
Goodbye Grandpa. I will always remember you, the house that raised me, the lessons I learned from you. Most of all, I’ll remember how you used to call me Paterack, the time you helped me catch a turtle, and all of the times you smiled that smile of yours, and reminded me that I was home.