a tribute to my grandfather

“Young people need something stable to hang on to — a culture connection, a sense of their own past, a hope for their own future. Most of all, they need what grandparents can give them.” – Jay Kesler

A few weeks ago, my grandfather, who my family lovingly called Boppa, passed away. This is my remembrance of him, my way to celebrate his life and our lives that sprang from his. I always delighted in seeing Boppa the few times a year I did, (he lived 4 1/2 hours away from me) because to me Boppa was that connection. More specifically, he was a connection to my mother’s childhood, something I’ve always been curious about. Boppa regaled me with stories of my mom’s mischievous beginnings, sometimes stopping short with a twinkle in his eye, saying “well, maybe we should wait for your mother to tell you that part.” What’s more, Boppa in his essence was an entertainer. He told jokes, funny stories, danced, sang his sentences when speaking wasn’t enough, and always ended with a warm hug. Boppa was a beautiful man who never failed to state it. Invariably, in any conversation he would have to stop and say “Damn I look good!” And the truth was, he did. Roald Dahl once said that “if you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.” Boppa’s face was the brightest you ever saw. Even in his hardest days, when breathing was difficult and he had not slept a wink the night before, Boppa would wiggle his ears, widen his eyes, whistle, and tap his feet until his intended audience was smiling and laughing, distracted from his suffering. Because of a lifetime of smoking, life was not easy for Boppa. Sadly, as the second youngest grandkid, I only knew Boppa, truly knew him, for a few years before he started suffering the consequences of smoking. But even through the struggles he faced as a cause of his sickness, Boppa’s spirit kept on. Boppa was a true family man; he was the center of every Christmas, online shopping for touchingly unique and sentimental gifts once he could no longer go outside and shop. Another thing about Boppa was his inherent compassion, his true good nature. I had the immense gift of talking to Boppa once about when he participated in the Poor People’s March on Washington in 1968. It became clear that my passion for social equality I thought I had gotten from my mother was actually a gift from my Boppa, passed down through my mom. And that truly is Boppa’s legacy: one of love. To know Boppa was to love him, because hate could never find a hold against such a source of love and light. Boppa showed me what it means to be family, what it means to treasure family. I realize though, that at the age of 79, Boppa should still be with us. It hurts me immeasurably that he is gone, even more that he is because of something preventable. Boppa’s wish was for his body be donated to science, in order to educate others on the dangers of smoking, so no one else would end up like him. Every single inch of Boppa was love and kindness, and I know I am so lucky to have him. Boppa was my connection. The picture above is from sixth grade when he came to see me in a school musical. Afterwards, when I anxiously asked Boppa if he liked the musical, he looked at me and said: “you looked just like Helen up there.” Helen, my grandmother who I never knew because she died of Breast Cancer. In these ways Boppa linked me, reminded me of my family and my past. Though physically gone, Boppa will always be here because of the lives he impacted, the hearts he left that much warmer. I love you Boppa, and will forever remember you.

XOX,

Yama

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