Monday, December 1, 2014


Some people answer the phone like they are surprised the phone rang. As if the phone's purpose is not to connect you with someone else. As if they are so confused and unsure of what they are going to hear. "Helloooo?" An ever-present question mark hanging at the end of the word, their tone inflection rising up, up, up, like a roller coaster.

Others answer with a grumble, their mouths rolling the letters around like marbles or gravel that sticks between their gums, the greeting anything but friendly.

My grandpa, though. My grandpa had his own way of answering.


Not with a question mark, but a period. An emphasis on the end of the syllable, the "l"s rolling around happily, the word coming out slow and sure. Grandpa took his time answering the phone, and when he did, he answered with a sense of certainty. As if he knew you were the person calling (even before the days of caller ID).

Usually when I called Grandpa, it was almost always to see where my dad was.

"Hel-loh," Grandpa would answer in his traditional tone.

"Hi Grandpa, it's Lindsay." Whenever he answered, I straightened up and spoke louder, clearer, feeling a bit robotic and silly as I emphasized each syllable. Grandpa's hearing wasn't too keen with his old age.

"Oh, hi," he'd say.

"Do you know where my dad is?"

Grandpa would either answer with a, "No, I haven't seen him today," or "Yup, he left about 20 minutes ago." His voice was usually upbeat. I'd say thanks and hang up, go on about my day.

I had that conversation with my grandpa hundreds of times over the years.

I called my grandpa yesterday. Or rather, I called the phone number to connect to the phone line to make the phone in my grandpa's kitchen shrill. I could just hear the ring bouncing around his kitchen, echoing against the fridge in the corner. The fridge with the wooden magnet of a salmon fish I bought him when I went to Montana. The fish magnet holding up a newspaper clipping of an obituary for his best friend Johnny who passed away a week ago. The fridge where my little brother and I used to grab cans of Mountain Dew and Coke, then sit by the coffee table in the living room where we put coins into a wooden piggy bank.

"Have you fed the pig?" Grandpa would ask us. He kept change nearby so we could stick the coins in the pig's slots.

I have the pig now. Grandpa gave it to me for my birthday last year. I cried when he gestured towards the pig, saying the pig was mine. I remember my hands running over the smoothness of the wood, catching on the pig's wooden ears, tail, snout. The tears rolled down my cheeks that day because it was such an unexpected gift. Unexpected tears.

So many unexpected tears.

Yesterday when I called grandpa's house,  I sat on my bed, the cell phone stuck to my ear. I pictured the ring traveling across the phone lines, skipping and jumping along M-52 until my call cozied up in the hollow of Grandpa's phone, waiting to be answered. Like all of the other times when I called Grandpa's house, I was calling for my dad. But as I listened to pattern of the phone ring, pause, ring, pause, I realized I was expecting grandpa to answer. To say, "Hel-loh." To tell me where my dad was.

But no one answered. Dad didn't answer. He must have left, I thought. He was over there picking up some paperwork and forms and other things the funeral home needed to plan a burial.

Two weeks ago on this same day-- a Monday-- Grandpa was here. He was here, on this earth. And I was here, but I was worrying about a speech I had to make and if the hem of my yellow skirt looked bad because it was fraying and if the polka dots on my shirt were too much and if I was going to trip in my heels. I was worrying about saying the wrong thing.

Now I don't know what to say. Now I don't feel here, even though I am. I'm here and he's not. My grandpa is not here. My grandpa's heart and body gave out and now he isn't going to answer the phone in his certain voice and he's not going to tell me stories about Ireland and he's not going to make jokes about President Obama or talk about Michigan State sports.

How does that happen? How can I be worried about the hem of my mustard colored skirt falling apart one week, and this week, it's me I'm worried is going to fall apart?

Forty-eight hours. Less than, really. Maybe 46. That's how long it took for my life to change. One minute, I'm talking about wedding planning and signing contracts and sipping on Chai Tea, the next minute, I'm answering my phone and telling my mom that yes, I will go meet my dad at the hospital, and really, Grandpa has chest pains?

Forty-six hours and he's gone.

I loved my grandpa very much. In other seasons of his life, I've heard he did things and said things that the lessons of life and mistakes and burned bridges teach a person later. By the time I had come around, though, his edges were softer, his sharpness ironed out. He was the grandpa that made me "Happy Birthday Lindsay" signs and a cake and a fishing trip to his Canadian cabin when I turned eight. He was the grandpa that would pick us up at daycare sometimes and knew about politics and got a smirk on his face when he said a good joke or comeback.

He was my grandpa. Our grandpa. We all called him grandpa--Mom, Dad, cousins, sons, nieces, nephews. All of us. And now he's gone.

So now we pack up and we move forward. There's obituaries and memorial services and driving and phone calls. And though those 46 hours were painful, they were also moments I will never forget. Moments filled with words I needed to say and I needed to hear, and I'm thankful for that. I'm thankful for the moments and the memories.

But amongst it all, and above all else, I'm thankful to God. I thank God for faith and family and friends. I thank God for fishing for Northern Pikes in Canada and jokes about politics and stories about Ireland and trucker hats with well-drilling rigs and Michigan State Spartan T-Shirts.

I thank God for my Grandpa.

I know Grandpa is at peace now. And one day, once the pain and the grieving subside and I don't cry when I drive by his house or when I see a Hillsboro coffee can, I will smile when I pick up the phone, and I will pretend to hear his phone answering on the other line:


And one day, that's what Grandpa will say to me when I see him again. 

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