Gramps…

I don’t really know what to write about this, but here goes. Yesterday at around 3:15 pm my grandpa Hal passed away. While I’m saddened that he’s gone, and he will be missed, I’m glad that he’s no longer in pain. Cancer seems to grab many in my family, but his seemed particularly horrible, especially because two months ago he was still picking up wings to rivet to his airplane.

I have to point out that he had an amazing life. He had many talents, was an amazing engineer, convinced the tiny town of Helena, Montana to build a new and better airport terminal so that 737s could land, created a scholarship fund for the Technical College in Helena to help those in need get an education, which he knew was the key to a better life. He was romantic enough to buy my gramma Jane a convertible Mustang, a green 1968 dream machine, so she could drive it once, with the top down, in the sun, before cancer took her away. He remarried to Zola, and the two of them were the cutest couple at the airport, always putting some magnificent flying machine together, chasing the dream of the next flight. Zola, although his second wife, was never second best, and she treated him like a king. He was 80 years old. He had at least another 80 years to live. Damn cancer.

My impression was that he wasn’t around when I was a kid, but we lived in Denver, and Hal and Jane were in Helena, so it’s not like they were down the road and skipped visiting. I really remember seeing him and Jane for the holidays to put out the candles-in-sacks all over their neighborhood. Those are great memories, but I’m still confused to the origins of the ‘Tom & Jerry’ drink we had. But impressions can have no real bearing on reality and while I don’t remember seeing Hal and Jane much until after I turned seven, I’m sure I probably did.

Jane died when I was eight, the same year, just a few months before grandma Sporty, my mom’s mom. I remember them both, although the memories are becoming more and more just impressions. Sporty was bright, wild, amazing, and lively, and Jane was calm, graceful, elegant and generous. But I don’t really remember Hal from then.

I remember when he and Zola got married, first because the wedding was in Vegas, second because I sang “Wind Beneath My Wings” for them. A more fitting song I can’t imagine, as over the next 20 years the two of them would travel the world, visiting Russia, Australia, and heaven only knows where else. They spent summers in Helena, avoiding the crushing summer heat of their winter home in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. They flew together, Zola earned her Instrument Rating, which is a very difficult task, ask any pilot. He couldn’t have been more proud, and while the trips overseas were great for both of them, I know they’d both have just as much fun just flying around in their own planes, too. I can’t imagine what she’s going through, I just hope she knows she’s loved, too.

Hal kinda showed up at various times in my life after that, giving advice, telling me history, and always asking “Hon, when are you going to learn to fly a plane?” I never saw him angry, I’ve never heard him raise his voice but once, and that was when were in Japan and his nerves had frayed – but so had everyone else’s, and even then he wasn’t loud or dangerous, he just was upset, and that was so new and different from his calm, cool, casual-in-a-business-suit-and-tie demeanor that it shocked me. I just never saw it again.

He had a whiskey voice, even though he was a scotch man to the last. Of course, he preferred ice-cream by far. His voice could capture a room without yelling, would cut and twirl words with the faintest echo of his Southern upbringing, and would always include “Hon” when talking to anyone in his family.

One of life’s more inexplicable coincidences happened as my youngest sister Tricia just got final confirmation that she’s pregnant the same day Hal left us. He’ll miss the new great-grandchild, who is bound to be another pilot-in-the-wings, I’m sure. I don’t know that I can do you justice in telling that kid who you are, but I’ll sure try.

I will miss you Grampa. I’ll miss you a lot. Be safe on your journey, and may your soul know peace.