Does the Inevitable Have to Happen Right Now?
The man you see above is Beryl Abicht. He's my grandfather on my mother's side. He grew up on a farm in rural Ohio during the Depression and fought the Nazis and Japanese in India and China during World War II. He was a welder, faced with the task of sprinting out into the fieldsto salvage usable parts from downed fighter planes and resurrecting American fighter planes.
Every few days he would get a break from that task in order to weld dead soldiers -- many of them his friends -- into giant sardine-can coffins to ship back home for burial. Somewhere in there, this man with only a high school education and a 400-horsepower will managed to court my grandmother through letters home, and convinced her to marry him when he returned.
If I remember the story correctly, he was once walking through the forest to mess hall in China with a number of other men. They were ambushed by a sniper, and the whole party was killed, apart from my grandpa. He managed to survive by hiding in a ditch. When the shooting stopped, my grandpa took a service pistol from one of his friend's cooling body, found that Japanese sniper and shot that motherfucker right between the eyes. Then he walked to the mess hall and ate dinner with the rest of his company.
After the war, my grandparents settled in Newport News, Virginia. Pop-Pop, as I have always called him, took a job as a welder for NASA. He welded everything from the first moon lander to the first space shuttle. Some of his best work carried Buzz Aldrin to the moon, and it is there today. One day, hopefully within my artificially extended lifetime, my grandchildren will be able to go see it.
After retiring, Pop-Pop took up wood carving and watercolor painting. He was one of my earliest artistic influences. I can remember finishing blueberry pancakes at my grandparent's breakfast table, and my grandmother making another plateful for us to paint together as a still-life. I can still smell the bacon she cooked to grease the pan and see the syrup dripping off the sides. Pop-Pop is diabetic, and I can remember him gazing at those syrupy cakes very, very longingly.
For years, he worked at my uncle's antique shop and Christmas store, helping to ring up customers and unlock cases. Pop-pop is an endless well of incredibly weak jokes, and he loves to tell customers the exact same one hundreds of times. Every time I see him, I try to tell him a new joke, which usually lasts until the next visit. When my aunt and uncle had auctions at their antique shop, Pop-Pop and Daro (my grandmother) wore polo shirts with the Smithfield Antiques logos embroidered on the front and SECURITY stitched across both arms.
During the sixties both he and Daro fought passionately for integrated public schools. As Ohioans transplanted to the Bible Belt, they faced no small amount of opposition. But guess who won?
"Hey Jeff," you may be thinking, "that's awesome and all, but ... what's the point?"
Here's the point, in case you missed it. My grandparents are some tough customers. They're tough customers with giant expansive hearts and they pretty much love everyone they encounter. Pop-Pop's lived a rich, long, hard life and his heart has gotten a lot of exercise.
So my question is: why is he in the hospital right now? Why did he wake up in the middle of the night last night, gasping for breath, then tell Daro he thought he was crossing the great divide? Why, if he is so tough, noble, and strong, did he have to go to the hospital AGAIN tonight in an ambulance?
He's 86 years old, diabetic, and had a five-way bypass several years ago. They've paged a heart specialist to come see him, and you don't do that when there's GOOD news. So now we're all waiting, and hoping, and praying for each other, me, my parents, sister, and grandmother. But even if the news is good tonight, we're going to get some bad news one of these days soon.
I was really touched and amazed at you guys' comments the other day when I was bitching about my blog as though it were a real problem. It amazed me to find out how many of you really paid attention and seemed to care. So I figure if you guys are reading this, that's that many more people that know what an amazing, tough, loving man my grandpa is. And maybe one of you can give me some sort of help understanding how exactly this can be happening right now.