Thursday, September 16, 2010

Living in Paradise

We called him "Opa."

He was my maternal grandfather...and this week, he would have celebrated his 98th birthday...

When my mom grew up, my grandparents lived here in Kansas City. My grandma, Oma, was a dean at the University of Missouri; Opa was an attorney. At some point, in the late 1950's, they moved to Wisconsin, due to a job opportunity for Oma.

In the early 1960's, Opa took a vacation down to St. Thomas, in the Virgin Islands, to visit his brother. Opa never came back. He called Oma, who was holding down the fort in Wisconsin, and said, "I am in paradise. If and when you want to join me, sell the house and come on down."

It took a few years, but eventually, Oma joined him, until her death in 1976.

Opa lived in St. Thomas for many, many years...enjoying the beach and enjoying the slower pace of life. When I was 17, I got to spend a few weeks with him that summer, and it was amazing....except when he made me eat turnips for the first time in my life. And brussel sprouts. Ugh.

Hurricane Hugo wiped out Opa's hillside home in 1989, and the family decided that it was time to bring Opa back to the States. He was getting older, and it was easier to "keep an eye on him" if he lived with us in Kansas City.

He was a man of few words...he really enjoyed just sitting and observing with his keen eyes that didn't miss a thing. When he finally DID decide to offer a comment, it was usually a zinger...full of sarcasm and dry wit that would leave you rolling. I called him "E.F. Hutton" behind his back - as in the commercial - because when he DID talk - you'd listen. Or else.

Opa expected nothing less than the best from us...His philosophy was, if you're going to do something, then you're going to do it well. Or not at all. He set high expectations for all of his grandkids, and I strived to meet those. Sometimes I would. Sometimes I let him down.

But...he always loved. You could see the love and pride in his face as he would sit and observe his family around him. He wouldn't say it - but you could feel it. It was there.

Alzheimer's eventually took over my grandpa...his memory got confused, and he got quieter and got to be very hard to visit him, as you wouldn't know "which" Opa would be there...the one who remembered who you were? Or the one who had no idea who the hell you was very, very tough.

He eventually passed away. And I cried. I cried a lot. I missed him. I missed his wit. His sarcasm. His dry observations.

And I missed his love.

He's been on my mind this week, as I silently observed his birthday.

So, cheers to you, Opa.

Miss you. Love you. And I hope you're enjoying paradise again - only this time up in the Heavens....