Wednesday, August 09, 2006

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.


At 8:51 AM, Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

Your grandpa is awesome! Much energy, hope and care headed in your direction as you navigate through all the worry, apprehension and feelings of love for him that come up at times like this. Great pic of him, too. All hail the welders! They keep the world stitched together!

At 10:14 AM, Blogger Lonnie Bruner said...

Jeff, I can completely empathize with you, and what's even stranger is that my grandad had a very similar situation to yours: he was in the Navy for 30 years, fought in three wars (WWII, Korea, Vietnam), lived in Norfolk and he was my hero. No joke. That man was my first hero, and for reasons I won't explain here (but you know) I've tried to bring him back from the dead, in a way, through his name. Also, many of the hobbies and interests I have now are attributable to him.

Also strange is that my grandad had gone through lots of surgeries. He was a tough guy, and by the time he passed away he was almost like the bionic man with all his scars.

I assume you've got as many great memories of your grandad as I do of mine. For now, let's just hope he gets better; he very well may do just that. But if worse comes to worst, you've got plenty of memories and stories to ensure that he'll live on with you. I know that's sort of a cliche thing to say, but it's true. Sadly, it doesn't mean the pain won't be there.

At 10:41 AM, Anonymous Sweet said...

Thanks for sharing Jeff. Your grandpa sounds like a great man, no wonder his grandson is such a smart/creative fella. Sending warm thoughts and prayers his way.

At 10:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What an amazing guy! He sounds tough enough to deal with some more medical bullshit. Anything related to heart disease is really scary, but medical science today is pretty awesome and there is a lot they can do for him. Both of my grandparents are tough customers too, veterans of the Depression and WW2, and they've been dealing with a lot of health issues these past few years. Maybe I'm in denial, but I think they're going to be around to see their great-grandkids born. Here's hoping!

At 12:00 PM, Blogger Velvet said...

Sigh. The things our grandparents endured were so much harder than what we have to go through.

I'm sorry he's in the hospital. I wish you and him the best. You are lucky to have him, and to be able to hear his stories from him firsthand. When people ask me that question, who would you have dinner with living or dead? I always say my grandparents. They all died when I was very young, and I think they had a lot to teach me.

Do keep us informed, okay?

At 7:58 PM, Blogger Red said...

There is never a good time so just keep telling his story.
I'll keep you guys in my prayers

At 12:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your grandpa sounds like a wonderful man, and your story makes me think of my own Pappy Louie, who passed away about four years ago, also in his late 80s. Pappy was in great health... worked his garden, walked several miles every day, and loved spending time with his family... but, one fateful spill down the basement stairs put an end to his life. Based on his health, he could have easily lived another decade, but, for whatever reason, it was his time to take that one mis-step. My family certainly did its share of asking "why?" I still think about how cool it would be to have him around, and we all still miss him.
I guess the only answer to "why" is that it's just life... that whole "turn turn turn" thing... know what i mean?
I'll keep you and your family in my thoughts and prayers... and do keep us posted.

At 1:45 AM, Blogger Jeff Simmermon said...

Reya, Lonnie, sweet, Red, Gwen, Velvet, all of you --

Thanks so much for this support. It means a lot to me, for real. I'm catching a train down to Norfolk tomorrow night and will be visiting him in the hospital this weekend.

I was able to coax a good old-fashioned cackle out of him tonight over the phone with a joke, so that's a good sign.

At 5:45 AM, Blogger Listmaker said...

i'm glad to hear he's doing better. these two posts are really getting to me. i haven't been reading many blogs since my big asia trip started. i'm catching up on them right now while at some lame beach town in vietnam. amazing writing.


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