my mom’s dad is somewhat of an enigma to me. i remember a warm character who loved us all quietly. only in my adulthood have i learned much more of the layers that is my grandpa. the one who shares an F with my son, as well as the middle name, for my justice is named after the family patriarch, fred justice, jr.
he came down with pancreatic cancer sometime in my 6th or 7th grade year. it was first time i remember realizing that these people i love who are older than me are not immortal. they will die off one by one and while horribly sad, i realized that this is what life is about. the culmination of our lives is our inevitable deaths.
the morning i went on the 8th grade beta club trip to dubois, i went to see him at the hospital. i don’t remember noticing an extra urgency when my mom asked me if i wanted to go see him in those pre-dawn hours, but she knew it was the end and wanted us to see the man who was much like a father to us. while on the retreat, we did a bunch of small groups where we talked about various issues. i sat in a circle of peers and cried about how my grandpa was sick and could die at any moment and how lucky i was to know him and to have seen him that morning. when she came to pick me up in the parking lot of casey junior high school at 3:30 that afternoon, i knew what had happened before my mom said, “grandpa died.” when i asked her when, she said it was about 10:15 am, exactly when i was speaking about him.
born an only child to fred, sr. & my own namesake, grandpa fred was afforded a comfortable life in small town illinois.
grandpa was a horribly handsome man, even as a young chap.
i found out, as an adult, that he had been misdiagnosed as a schizophrenic when my mom was young and missed out on much of their lives. he spent days in bed and even lived with his parents for a time. when my parents got married, my dad, who is a doctor, thought that he was bipolar & once he was correctly diagnosed and medicated, he started to come back around to doing things he loved.
i asked my mom about him recently because i wanted to know more about him and felt like there was a gaping hole in his story. i knew he was in the armed forces, but i knew very little about what else he did in his life before me.
he worked at a refrigeration plant in indiana before rejoining the army. after they came back from being stationed in europe, he had trouble finding work, but did eventually work at a local factory and at one point delivered bread. his illness kept him from getting and keeping jobs, only because he wasn’t reliable.
grandpa was very athletic & had a lot of fun with the kids before the depression took over. he took and processed his own photographs. he sang in a barbershop quartet and was on a bowling team with his dad. he completed 2 years of college.
there is so much more to my grandpa that i never knew. he was much more than the silent teddy bear who wore cardigans, played tennis, smoked cigars on the back porch, took thousands of pictures, warmed the same spot in the same pew every sunday, and loved us with a smile that would melt my heart.
i never knew him as an adult, and, oh, how i wish he knew my kids. i can only ask for the stories, so that they don’t die out as well. even though my kids never knew him, i want them to know who he was and how important he was to me.