Grandpa Maynard

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Grandpa Maynard, one of seven children of a Dutch preacher. Kalamazoo was his hometown, I suppose. Grandpa who went to one semester of college, and took English, Latin, and Dutch. Grandpa who was drafted, got a march fracture, and was sent to guard German prisoners in Indiana instead of being sent overseas. Grandpa who met grandma and married her when she was eighteen.

Grandpa who was Assistant Postmaster. Who collected stamps. Who liked to fish. Grandpa and his father-in-law in their little fishing boat in Florida.

Grandpa who played piano. I have his Reader’s Digest piano music books still. Grandpa who sang bass. Grandpa who sang at church. Grandpa who always sat and listened when I played piano, and sang along when he knew the words. Grandpa who would regretfully tell me when I was hitting wrong notes.

Grandpa who took me to lunch at Pizza Hut. We would order personal pan pizzas and they would put a little timer on our table. If they took more than 30 minutes to make our pizzas, they were free. The pizzas always came in less than thirty minutes.

Grandpa who took me to the swimming pool.

Grandpa sitting on a high stool by the kitchen sink, washing dishes, telling me where to put the silverware. Grandpa sitting at the kitchen table with his stamp albums in front of him, rearranging them, and showing me the rare and new ones. He had the misprinted African American Cowboys plate. Grandpa who had my dad buy plates for him at the philatelic window at the downtown post office.

Grandpa with his driving cap, his square bifocals, his blue windbreaker, his cane, and his one shoe built up because he had one leg shorter from polio. Grandpa in shorts and knee socks, with a knee-replacement surgery scar that I couldn’t resist playing with when I was little. Grandpa with his wavy salt-and-pepper hair. Grandpa who I remember with blue eyes, then remember with brown. Grandpa doing knee exercises, using an old coffee can wrapped in a hand towel. Doing the exercises with him when I was about five.

Grandpa writing letters to me as soon as I learned how to read. Grandpa sending me Campbell’s Soup labels to turn in at school. Grandpa’s squareish cursive and rough yellow writing paper, and then his electric typewriter, and then handwritten again on the stationery I “made” for him with our bubblejet printer. I still have every one, sorted and piled in the third drawer of my mother’s secretary desk.

Grandpa who was always ready to read a book to a small child, who made different voices for the characters. Grandpa seemed genuinely interested in my toys and drawings and projects. At his funeral everyone remembered how much he loved children, and how much they loved him.

I was staying with them in the summer of 1992 when grandma’s mother was dying of pancreatic cancer. Grandma had sat up with Kit the previous two nights and was fast asleep upstairs with noisy box fans running. I was tucked away in the guest room downstairs, just starting to drift off, when grandpa yelled. He had tripped and broken a hip. I was able to awaken Grandma and she called an ambulance. I was sent to Aunt Mary’s for the night, where I slept a deep and dreamless sleep in a fluffy white bed amid mirror-shiny wood furniture.

Grandma and grandpa, the people I called when I dumped my first boyfriend while my parents were on vacation, and I was too sad to stay alone in the house for a week. I went to stay with them and they were so kind. I didn’t expect anyone to take my grief seriously, but they welcomed me like someone who was in a real crisis, they sat down with me and sympathized and told me I had done the right thing.

Grandpa had bone cancer and his vertebrae began to collapse. He lost about eight inches of height. He broke ribs in his sleep. He wheezed. He napped. He sat in his chair and read books about World War II, book after book. He went to church when he felt up to it. One afternoon when everyone else was on a walk and I was sitting at the table with him looking through war souvenirs, he broke down and cried. He didn’t understand why he’d gotten to stay safe in America while the men he trained with were sent overseas to die. One of those men was a cousin of his. I held his hand while he pulled out a handkerchief and dried his eyes. His hands were bony, and the backs of them were darkly discolored with age and sickness. Grandpa said that he wished he could write letters more often. He wished he could come to visit me at college and take me out for dinner, but… he lifted his hands and dropped them hopelessly. His body wouldn’t let him.

I last saw him about two weeks before he died. Insurance had provided him with a motor scooter, and it was a glorious autumn afternoon. We all took a walk and he went with us, in his scooter. Intoxicated with the freedom and independence, he zipped far ahead of us, ignoring us when we called to him to wait. For once in his life, the preacher’s boy was being a little bit naughty.

I was at Purdue living in the graduate house then. My father had been working on that side of the state and had taken me out for dinner. Just as he dropped me off at the graduate house he got a call. Maynard was in the hospital. His oxygen saturation was low and this might be it. My dad took off to drive across the state. By the time he got there, Maynard had passed.

Grandpa, my grandpa. He loved to take grandma on Sunday drives in the Indiana countryside. He loved to drive his Buick. He loved to point out the mismatched intersections, and say that they were so because of the curvature of the earth. Grandpa who took naughtiness in children as a personal affront. Grandpa who held his silverware overhand. Grandpa who climbed out the bedroom window to shovel snow off of the flat porch roof. Grandpa who always believed you would take a genuine interest in his souvenirs and letters and projects. Grandpa drinking coffee. Grandpa persistently and publicly admiring and loving his wife, in very much the same way my own husband does.

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Here’s a picture for you, grandpa Maynard. Same piano, different baby. Your Reader’s Digest book on the music stand.

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