If you follow my Twitter feed, you may notice I’ve been going home to Chicago a little more lately. You also may notice during each of those visits I make time to hang out with my grandpa. Paying even closer attention to my posted Four Square check-ins and you may catch me at a cemetery. That part is always included on my date with grandpa.
My grandparents met in one of the most romantic love stories I know. My grandpa was a marine in WWII. He left to fight for his country with no girlfriend back home. His uncle was aware he had no one to write, so he enlisted the help of several young women to send letters. One of these women was my grandma.
Grandpa says he was surprised to be receiving letters from women he had never met, but wrote back. Eventually, he only corresponded with a woman named Eleanor. On our last lunch date, I asked him “why her, out of all of them?” He said he liked how she wrote, and what she had to say. It was that simple.
From a couple miles away, he witnessed the flag being raised at Iwo Jima, and soon after my grandfather was on a plane back home. Back in the United States, he made plans to meet Eleanor in person. The first time he set eyes on my grandma was at a bowling alley. He said after that, he was done for.
Their very first date, he took her first to a football game. After, they hopped a train to the other side of the Chicago to watch a hockey game. As would become the customary ritual, once the date was over my grandpa would ride the train back to her house, walk her to the door, and then run like hell to make the last train home. He only missed it once. A couple of years later, at a hall in a V.F.W., they were married.
Over the next 63 years together, they visited each and every state. They witnessed the Bears win the Super Bowl, in person. They raised three children, two boys and a girl. They became grandparents to three children, also two boys and a girl. When I went off to college in 1998, at the young age of 17, my grandmother began writing to me. It was something we kept up until her death this past May, 2011. She received and read my last letter to her on the last day she was awake. She passed away the following day.
For almost all 31 years of my life, my grandma had always been around. It feels weird not getting letters and the occasional phone call from her. As for my grandpa, I can’t even imagine what it’s like to lose the person you woke up next to for 63 years. He still visits her grave once a day, sometimes bringing a lawn chair with him. He sets the chair on the spot where he’ll be buried one day, and talks to her. Last time we were there, he told me that is what true love is.
Recently, I started writing letters to grandpa. He doesn’t write back, but I know he enjoys getting them, and I enjoy writing them. On my birthday, they used to call and sing “Happy Birthday” to me together. This year, grandpa called and sang to me by himself. He plays bingo twice a week with the seniors, and we go on our lunch dates whenever I can make it back home. I am so thankful to hear their story and for their example of what I want in life, and in a marriage.
As with any family losing a loved one, the first Christmas in their absence feels a little bit empty. As we celebrate my niece, Grace Eleanor’s, first Christmas I know grandma will be missed. I’m sure there will be some tears at church. Because, after all, grief is the price you pay for love.