Grandpa died today. It was my privilege to be with him when he drew his last breath on this earth- the first time in my life that I have witnessed death first hand. What a sacred honor- as strange as that may sound- to be watching over him as he began his new life in the presence of Jesus.
Sissy was there with me, and the two of us were “catching up”, as cousins who have long been separated tend to do. We had been talking about our families, events from the past few years, and water under the bridge. Small talk, memories, and things that seem trivial now.
Suddenly, we noticed that the green line on the monitor which tracked the beating of his heart no longer moved in the familiar peaks and valleys, but held a straight, flat line. The oxygen machine that helped his otherwise shallow breathing became steady instead of randomly intermittent. Grandpa’s shallow breaths were no longer promoting the oxygen output. A pat on the hand, a stroke on the face had not been sufficient to rouse him from his sleep since sometime the day before, nor did he respond to it now. Gone- was it possible? Had he really died so anti-climactically?
I think it’s fitting that he left this life the way he lived it, without a lot of fanfare or drama. Grandpa was a central figure in my life when I was growing up, because he retired when he was in his forties. Since he and Grandma lived right “down the road” from us, we saw them often. Grandpa was always there, content to take a back seat to the kids and chaos.
The story goes that he met my Grandma as a young sailor when he and his buddy hailed a taxi for a night of shore leave in Lake Charles, LA. Grandma was a young widow with 5 children under the age of 12, trying to keep her family together during the depression. She was driving a taxi to earn a living. Grandpa and “Uncle Frenchie” asked their attractive driver to show them around town and the rest, as they say, is history. He and Grandma married, and he adopted all five kids when my dad was 12.
He was always a little bit of an oddity to us growing up, at first because we saw him so seldom. He continued to work in the merchant marines and was away sailing the seven seas for months at a time. There was always a festival atmosphere when Grandpa came home for leave. The family gathered, he would take us all out for pizza and pitchers of root beer. Exotic gifts from ports around the world would be pulled out of packages and exclaimed over by everyone. This was a time to celebrate! Grandpa was home, and life was good. Grandma was happy because he was home and safe.
As I got older and Grandpa retired, I realized that part of the reason he seemed to be a bit out of place in the family was because he was NOT a native son of the South. Grandpa had been born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. He grew up sneaking into Dodgers baseball games and hanging out on the streets of the city, which seemed like an alien world to this little country girl. He remained a Dodgers fan till his dying day, and I heard from my aunt that he was a fairly decent player himself as a young man- enough so that he was scouted for a professional farm team at one point.
It’s not often that I meet someone my age with a grandparent who is still alive. He was 93 years old, and still had a sharp mind till the last days of his life. It’s a milestone that few people reach. I could share so many memories of evenings at Grandpa’s house (where there was always ice cream in the freezer), barbeques and boat rides, playing with cousins, and Boxers named Sundown.
Instead, I’ll just share a picture with you of the man who will always live in my heart as one of the bravest men I knew because he was willing to risk everything for a young widow who was the love of his life. He laid his life down for a family that probably scared him spit-less, and wasn’t always glad to have him at first. And he was willing to defy his family to make what he knew was the most important decision of his life- they eventually grew to love us as much as any great-grandparents ever could!
Rest in Peace, Grandpa Stu.
P.S. If you are a family member, or knew Grandpa Stu, I invite you to leave a memory or story about him in the comments.
Teresa Praytor says
Sweet story! Thanks for sharing. It reminds me how important we are in our grandkid’s lives.
Teresa, I just pray that I can have as much of an impact on my grandchildren as my grandparents did on my life. I still hear their voices in my head. Sometimes they were the reality check I needed.
Tammy Morgan says
Such a beautiful tribute to grandpa. He was loved by many and will be greatly missed. Thank you Christi.
Tammy, this was a pleasure for me to put together. I appreciate you and Scott.
Wanda Daugherty says
This is a nice tribute Christi…he was a good friend, one of the nicest, friendliest people I ever knew. He will be missed.
Thanks, Aunt Wanda; I found out some things about him in the past few days that I never knew. He was always wanting to hear about what was going on with everybody else.
Bryon Miller says
There are so many stories I remember about my summers with Grandma and Grandpa and with K.K and Cynthia but one of my faves is when me and him were curled up on the living room floor with my purple Pink Panther sleeping bag. I only wish I could find the picture it reminds me how grandpa was as much of a kid as us. I also remember all the fishing trips we went on. Grandma would always fix the coffee milk for us before we left.
Bryon, I would love to see that picture! What a memory… You know, I make coffee milk for my grandkids now- they beg for it when we visit, lol! I guess Grandma lives on in lots of ways.
I remember he always had chocolate chip cookies in the cabinet. We had to climb on the counters to reach them. I remember the goldfish in the concrete ponds. I remember the boat rides and Mrs. Grouts. He is greatly missed.
Rachel, the cookies came along after Grandma died, I think. When your mom and I were kids it was always ice cream, eaten out of those ceramic bowls that Grandma made. I don’t ever remember them being out of ice cream. But boy, did we ever get in trouble for harassing those fish!
She’s right about the cookies! The orange Tupperware containers had cookies in them. Lol. Guess you gotta know where to look huh Rachel??
Yeah, but you know what we really looked forward to was fudge and fruit cake cookies during the Christmas Holidays!
I enjoyed reading this and actually putting the pieces together where my last name came from. My Dad, Stuart told me this story a couple of times but I always seem to forget. I remember going over and playing with his gold fish and being amazed by those cement ponds he had. I only got to go a few times to his house but it was nice everythime we went.
Hi, Tanner! Thanks for your comment, it’s nice to hear from you. Those cement “ponds” are actually old concrete sewer pipes turned up on end to make fish tanks. When your dad and I were kids, we used to get fussed at all the time for playing in those things trying to catch the huge goldfish that lived in them. I suppose the grownups were afraid one of us would fall in and drown, but we always thought that was silly!
Those ponds are deeper than they look. One of us fell in once, I forget who, and the water was deeper than we expected.
We were quite the gang of troublemakers back then, weren’t we?
Grandma and Grandpa had Jonathan and me clean one out one summer. They are definitely deeper than they look. Lol
Your welcome Christi! That was a really cool idea to do that. I would have never knew those were sewer pipes.
Yes, it was a cool idea. We grew up in a very creative family. 🙂
Krisann Decuir says
What a beautiful tribute and astonishing how hard it is to capture all lives he touched. He was truly amazing, raising almost four generations of kids (an I right here?) with each of us remembering how thoughtful & caring this man was. Between raising the 5 children, he had a hand in raising my mother & her siblings and cousins; myself, my brother, & cousins, and even some great great grand children. There are so many stories that it’s hard to pick a starting point! This was an incredibly difficult weekend. I will always cherish the sleepovers where I knew the Swanson man had delivered the treats in the big freezer, feeding the fish in the ponds, climbing the counters for the cookies (looking back I can’t believe he let us do that!), bringing me & my friends to practice & recitals, the trips in the Cadillac to visit family in Florida, Uncle Frenchie & endless card games where I was always “cheating,” and the hallway with pictures of each of us in cap & gowns, service pictures, wedding pictures, and even those baby pictures. And can’t forget the kitchen, between Grandpa & Granny B (Aunt Billie) there was always something cooking! There isn’t enough space to put down all these memories and I have successfully brought myself back to tears, but these are more happy, remembering how much he did for us kids growing up. So many missed opportunities to have taken advantage of spending more time with him. But I know he is looking down over all of us, so wether it was cookies, ice cream, or those black jelly beans in the bottom drawer of the fridge, here’s to Great Grandpa & everyone who loves him.
Krisann Kostelecky Decuir
Sorry Kris only one point not a fact … Grandpa helped raise you and Jacob we including your mom were in Montana until we were old enough to take care of ourselves
So very moving. Now I feel like like I didn’t know him at all.
My memories of grandpa center around his house. I just remember it being so dang cool with the giant fish, the jukebox in the “downstairs”, and the rooms of hidden treasures in the garage area(the only place that was ever off limits). There was always something to look at. Always a new photo on the wall. Always a doll I hadn’t noticed before. He was always so laid back. i wish my kids had known him and I had gotten a chance to know him as an adult.
Jade Gonzalez says
Hi,Everyone, Just wanted to Say Sorry we couldn’t have spent more time with Grandpa,but, I do remember all the times we did it was Great times,and stories from Grandpa and Billie,and everytime we would get hand full of pepermints and butterscotch candies,awesome too see what little dolls and figurines from different parts of the World to go along with big stories behind each one, we loved to venture around Grandpas house and have early breakfast with Billie and Grandpa sometimes distance cousins, I will always keeps sweet memories in my Heart,Sorry our family hasn’t got to enjoy more times together,Love Everyone Condolences,Awesome Is the day to be with Jesus Amen
Judy Pielow says
Some of you already know that the Pearson name is joined to the royals in England. The Middleton name. I have a parchment with the story. If any of you are interested in a copy, let me know and I will figure out how to use this thing to get it to u. Aunt Judy
Does any of you remember the fruit salad …. we could always eat as much as we wanted …. not realizing Grandpa had spiked it with whiskey….. And best of all was fresh hot chocolate butter … all gooey and delicious!!!.
Yes, I still base my fruit salad on the recipe she used- minus the whiskey, lol!
This story is so touching (and well written). It brought me to tears and makes me really miss my Grandpa because I don’t get a chance to see him since he lives in another state. But, it reminds me that I’ll have to call him more often. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you for your sweet remarks. I hope you will take a minute to call your grandpa. He will love to hear from you!