Monday, March 4, 2013

Last of the Norwegians

A couple of weeks ago, my last remaining grandparent died.  It was my paternal grandfather, the Norwegian.  You see, if you are one of my grandfathers, you are either the Swede or the Norwegian.  The Swede passed five years ago and the grandmothers even longer before.  But Geno held out through many toils and snares, including (but not limited to) congestive heart failure, farmer's lung, and urinary tract infections.

In the end, what actually caused him to die was that his body just shut down.  It was not totally unexpected and didn't catch any of us unprepared, but it does signify a major shift in our family order.  Suddenly, my father (as the oldest child) and his brothers have become the "elders" of the family.  As of yet, there is only one generation beneath them, but that will eventually change.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I wrote my grandfather's obituary.  I knew him as well as any granddaughter could; certainly the longest of any of my cousins and brothers by virtue of my age.  Still, he remained to the end a bit of an enigma.  Not because he was especially stoic or quiet but because he was very selective about what he revealed to his audience.

Clearly the man enjoyed history.  Especially family history.  Every time we would show up at his place, he would have acquired some new obscure relic that appeared useless but by his estimation was priceless.  Wooden bowls, step stools, pictures, rocks.

The majority of his 86 years were spent in one rural area.  He started on a farm, was later moved to town in an apartment and just a year and a half ago finally ended up in an assisted living arrangement.  Initially he resisted change, but he was not so stubborn that he wouldn't adapt somehow.  Unfortunately, with the last move, he also lost his ability to drive and with that his ability to be independently mobile.

This did not sit as easily with him. 

Now, we could sit and theorize about the need to keep one's brain active or losing the will to live, but I would prefer not to do that.

Instead I would like to think about the fact that he liked to keep records.  Not only did he valiantly attempt to write out stories from his younger days and random facts about different people in the township; he also wrote about things that went on in his daily life.  In a series of spiral bound notebooks.  For some reason, he seems to have had an aversion to using up an entire notebook before moving on to the next because there are several of them that are not even half full.

But I think I can relate.

You see, I am something of a sporadic journal keeper myself.  If you were to go through the 25 book boxes currently in my storage unit, you would encounter at least half a dozen partially filled journals.  I am less fond of the basic spiral bound notebook, but I am definitely fond of not filling all the pages before starting a new one.

If you want to know why, I cannot give you a good reason.  Maybe I saw a really cool journal at the bookstore or received one as a gift and decided to start fresh.  Maybe I misplaced one along the way.  Whatever the reason, it came as a bit of a surprise to discover that perhaps this habit is hereditary.  As far as I know, it seems to have skipped a generation, because unless my dad is holding out on me, he is not a journal writer.

For all his quirks, I am not ashamed to be likened to my grandfather.  Like all human beings, he had his faults, to be sure.  He was not a perfect man.  But as with all people in your life that you choose to love, you have to take someone as the sum of their parts.   So I take with me the habits, traits and genes that have come to me through my grandfather and I will do my best to remember the source that contributed so much to the sum of my own parts, and I will be thankful for them.  Mange takk, bestefaren min.