Ethan, my younger grandson, just turned 2 years old. Susie and I were out of town, so we missed his birthday party. My daughter-in-law Emily always has themed parties for the boys. As this picture shows, the theme this birthday was baseball. My other grandson, Tommy (3 years old), is on the left and Ethan is on the right. It would be very hard to be anything but a proud grandparent with two grandsons that cute.
Part of the reason we were out of town was that while Susie was at a medical conference in Philadelphia, I was able to spend Saturday in Milltown, NJ where I grew up. I went to the graveyard where my dad is buried and took a picture of the gravestone to show my mom who probably will never have the opportunity to visit it.
My dad’s grave is in my mom’s family plot. Among other relatives, my grandfather is buried there. He was always my favorite relative. I called him Gramps. I remember lots of fun times with him. He taught me to play Pinochle and other card games. He used to tell me stories he made up and silly rhymes like, “Adam and Eve and Pinchme went down to the river to bathe. Adam and Eve got drowned, who do you think got saved?” Of course, the correct answer of Pinchme resulted in getting pinched.
My dad was not at all into anything athletic. I don’t remember him ever throwing me a ball. Gramps would. He would play kickball with me or whatever sport I was interested in. He traveled extensively and told great tales of his travels. To me, he was a larger-than-life character that I loved.
I found out as I got older that he really was quite a character. He had no middle name, but always referred to himself as James Vernon Cockerill (note the gravestone). As best we can figure, he borrowed the name from Vernon Castle. I still have some pieces of wood that he claimed were from the crash of Castle’s airplane. Gramps claimed he served during World War I at the airfield in Texas where the crash happened. I use the word claim because separating truth from reality with him was hard.
He got in trouble one time while visiting the island of Guernsey as he claimed to be going to visit the queen. They take the queen rather seriously over there and suspected him of who knows what. The friend he was visiting in Guernsey never spoke to my grandfather again after the episode.
Gramps wore outrageous clothes and was vain enough that he would never admit how old he was. His grave only has the date of his death, not of his birth. He died in his late 80s while rehearsing for a play at the retirement community where he lived.
Whatever his flaws, he was Gramps. By contrast, my dad’s parents were Grandmother and Grandfather. There were very much of the children-should-be-seen-and-not-heard school. I remember little about them other than that they were scary and smelled funny.
It should be pretty obvious which grandparent I want to be like. Not coincidentally, I always wanted to be called Gramps. Tommy, however, calls me Papa or Papa Bill. In truth, he could call me Poopyhead and I would be just fine with it. After all, he is my grandson. Look at that mischievous grin from his train-themed 3-year-old birthday party. How could I not be smitten? So too with Ethan’s crooked smile.
I want to be a part of their lives. I want to be that fun grandfather that is willing to do crazy things with them. I look forward to the day when I can go bike riding with them, help them build amazing Lego creations, teach them to play Pinochle or to post up in basketball, or join them in whatever they want to do. For now, I will make funny faces at them, wrestle with them, and maybe even trick them into saying, “Pinch me!”