Jan 062012

I’m writing this post from 35,923 feet up in the air, zooming above the clouds on my way out to California.

airplane map

I need to learn a better way to share this information with people in conversation.  Whenever I’m telling someone face-to-face that I’m heading to the airport, I’m inevitably met with an excited, “Ooo, have fun! Where are you going?” Problem is, it’s not always a pleasure trip.

After 92 years on Earth, my Grandfather has passed on.  He stayed with us through the end of the year, only letting go on the morning of December 31st. My Grandma and Grandpa lived out in Anaheim, California frequenting the Disney fireworks on warm west coast evenings. Southern California is where I’m headed now to say my goodbyes.

Grandma and Grandpa had a beautiful big house filled with so many rooms that in addition to a den in the front of the house and a massive living room in the back, they had a “bonus room” just filled with board games. I’m not sure what the square footage is compared to my childhood home, but every time we walked in to visit, it looked like a palace to me. Lemon and avocado trees grew in the backyard along with an apple tree that my Grandfather loved.  Grandma, on the other hand, hated the apples.  She’d pluck them off one by one, look me in the eye and say “Don’t you tell your Grandpa, but these crabapples taste disgusting and they have no place in our yard.” Then she’d chuck the piece of fruit over the railing, down into the open air below.  We’d watch as the apple bounced and tumbled along all the way down the hill to the reservoir, giggle a little, and pick another one off the tree. I let our little secret out ten years ago at Grandma’s funeral. Grandpa graciously forgave us.

Grandpa was a man who loved his family and believed in doing what’s right. (I think the stubborn streak that my father passed onto me came from Grandpa.)  But along with will of steel, Grandpa loved his family dearly.  We never made the flight out to California as often as I would have liked, and I was always a little jealous that my aunt and two cousins lived next door to them. We had such a great time whenever we were there, so much that my brother and I would cry in the car when we had to leave. I always promised that when I was a grownup I’d visit more often. My promise materialized into a few weekend visits one summer when took courses at UC San Diego with my cousin Julie, and again on an extended trip for her wedding.  I only wish I’d been able to visit more.

No matter how old I am or where I might be in the world, there’s one thing that – without fail – reminds me of my grandfather: the taste of M&M candies.

Sight alone doesn’t always conjure up memories, but the second I taste an M&M, I’m thrown back to 1986, running around Grandma and Grandpa’s massive living room floor, eyeing a glass jar full of bright M&Ms.  I know Grandma couldn’t open a bag of Hershey’s Kisses without devouring the whole thing herself, so I’m not sure how she managed to keep away from the M&Ms.  But I remember Grandpa scooping a small handful out of the jar, and other members of my family following suit and giving me the candies to eat as Muppet Babies played on the television. Sometimes I wonder if it’s a pure memory or one reinforced by watching an old VHS documenting our trip that year.  Either way, the connection is so strong that I can’t not think of Grandpa’s strong, quiet, observant smile whenever I bite into an M&M.  I’m certain it’ll be that way forever.

2011 was a tough year for my family, as a dear family friend “Uncle” Dennis passed away early in the year and then my mom’s Mom passed on this past May. It’s weird knowing that my immediate family is now just two generations. Neither my brother nor I have any children yet.  My two cousins both have kids now, including Jeanne’s gaggle of four beautiful children and Julie’s baby boy whom I haven’t met yet.  I remember one evening maybe fifteen years ago or so in Grandma and Grandpa’s “bonus room” talking to Julie late into the night.  We were talking about boyfriends, falling in love, and someday having families of our own.  It’s hard to believe so much time has passed and she’s now a mommy herself.  It’s amazing how quickly time passes in retrospect and how much changes. Some things don’t change, though. Family is all we have. Whether by blood or a family you’ve chosen for yourself, the people you love mean the world to you, and essentially become your world. I’m grateful I have such wonderful family in my life – both those by blood and those who’ve become a part of it over the years. I’m sure this weekend it going to be really rough, especially when everyone’s gathered in the same room. But at least we’ll all be there together.

I love you, Grandpa.

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