June 02, 2005

Good-bye Grandpa

It has been one month to the day since my grandpa died suddenly in a nursing home. He was there to get physical therapy to help him use his legs again.

He is not my biological grandfather. My dad's dad walked out on them before grandma even gave birth. My grandpa married my grandma when my dad was about 14.

Grandpa had Parkinsons & it had been taking its toll after so many years, and one day in April his legs just gave out. He had already gotten pneumonia after his bronchitis didn't heal all the way.

Then he was falling from the detoriated leg muscles. The pneumonia came back, but he was healing and still doing his physical therapy. He was having terrible pains though from an infection in the digestive area.

On Sunday, my aunt called to say if I wanted to see him alive I'd better get out there quick. I hadn't come out yet because our foreign exchange student was here for two weeks. She left on Sunday night.

I called grandma to tell her we were heading out & to ask grandpa if he wanted the kids to see him there. (He had lost a lot of weight)

We had really thought he'd come home soon. Even when he had the bronchitis & pneumonia he got better & carried on. He was still driving around, going to the moose, the bar, and playing cards with his buddies before his legs gave out. His mind was as sharp as a tack.

She was going to call the doctors on Monday morning to ask them if it was looking like his health would hold up for the therapy to even benefit him.

They were starting to wonder if he was getting pneumonia for a 3rd time.

Grandma knew he wouldn't make it through that, as the Parkinsons was making it difficult for him to swallow & breathe without coughing as it was.

She wanted him to be home, if they thought it was more serious then they were saying.

On Monday at 10:00 am he died. Just like that. She never got to call, never got to bring him home. She was devastated that he died alone in the nursing home.

Everyone thought he was just there to get physical therapy so he could get back home.

My heart aches at the thought of not getting to say good-bye. He knew I was pitching a fit about the car problems & not being out there for his birthday.

I had missed his birthday in February because our dumb van was out of commission. When we realized it wasn't worth it to fix it, we worked on getting a new one. We got our van on April 13th, and on April 17th our exchange student came for 2 weeks.

She left on May 1st. He died on May 2nd. He had been in the nursing home for two weeks, but we never thought he'd die. Maybe we were all in denial as he had been hospitalized twice before losing his ability to walk.

Had I known, I would have rented a car. I would have even walked.

We saw him for Thanksgiving, and we brought a DVD of pictures from his birthday the year before. But grandma had mistaken their new VCR for a DVD player. We didn't even think to borrow their friends. Why we didn't leave it for them to use it at the neighbors I don't know. So he never got to see those pictures.

Regrets are hard to live with, and I, at 31, have more then I can count. I am a slow learner in some ascepts I suppose.

Although, I had written him a letter years ago to tell him what he meant to me, and what impact he had on my life.

You see, when I was 9, I was sent to live with them. My mom was an unfit parent, and always had been.

My dad was a heroin addict. He was getting clean and some 'friends' murdered him. They stole all the money he had, that he was going to use to move back to Michigan. He was on his way back, to change his life, to be a better dad. His goal was to send for me later on. He told my Aunt (grandma's sister) on the phone, that he was going to bring me home to them. To help me have a proper life.

I was 2 years old, and my bitter & immature mom kept me from him. The 'friends' came over, beat him to near death, then shot him up with a lethal dose of heroin. He lay there hanging on to life in the hotel. Alone. Until the housekeeper found him. He fought death off for a week, and then died in the hospital, the only child of my grandma.

To the San Diego police, he was a nothing. A nobody. He was a druggy. Cause of death- 'morphine overdose'. Never mind the huge gash in the side of his head.

Being raised by my mom I was neglected, emotionally abused, and in danger. I had been in foster care as an infant already, and my dad fought to get me out. My aunt (her sister) had taken care of me at one point because my mom lived with friends in an apartment that was infested by cockroaches.

When I was 9, I woke up and was told I was leaving. I'd be gone that weekend. My moms folks to me to Seaport Village for lunch and to see the Annie movie. My parting gift from them was a tiny pair of Annie earrings. I knew something was really wrong, because they had never taken me out like that. My mom had been living with my other aunt. (one of my moms 5 sisters) She cried, grabbed my face, and told me it wasn't my fault. Before this happened they had been fighting terribly, and my aunt wanted her to move.

I was to board a plane, by myself, for the first time ever. I had one tiny suitcase of clothes. Before I left, I had found a $20 bill on the ground while rollerskating in El Cajon. I left it with her, because I worried she'd need money. I went the whole flight without food. I didn't have any money, you see, since I left it for mom. I had to think of her. My mom never bothered to tell me everything was taken care of by the ticket. Even when I missed my flight after leaving my ticket in the seat, I refused all offers for candy bars and sodas in the kids lounge.

So my mom finally gave me up. She finally admitted she couldn't take care of me. She shouldn't take care of me. If my dad's mom wanted me, she'd sign me over. If not, I'd go to foster care. She continued to collect welfare until my grandma reported her. Grandma burned with anger when she knew my mom kept getting money, and yet never even sent me a birthday card.

My grandpa was about to retire that year. I came to live with them in their one bedroom townhouse in Novi, Michigan.

The school year had started already, and I was enrolled at Apple Orchard school, with Mrs. Plume as my 3rd grade teacher. She was an angel on earth. I slept in the basement, on a bed. (in Leota I had my very own room) Something I had rarely ever had before. There was a rhythm to the house, a routine. I ate good meals at regular times. Something I had never had.

I had a real childhood for the first time ever. I got to be a little girl. To have sleep overs, birthday parties, rollerskating trips. I was in girl scouts & played softball. I got to go up north on the weekends to their cabin in Leota, where they were going to retire. There I met my best friend, Krissy.

I ran and played in the woods, catching butterflies, hunting faeries, and picking wild blueberries. Something I had never got to do before. So, this is what I've been missing?

When I moved with them, I was terribly sick. I wasn't healthy, and I wasn't nourished. I suffered from a terrible cold and chest infection for many weeks. But the teacher was patient, and really helped me. When I got a report card that had a D in math, I got the worse lecture of my life.

My grandpa was too harsh with his words, making a prophecy that I'd end up like my mom, or pregnant at 16 by a 'black man', with an earring in my nose.

(Yes, he was a bit of a racist for many years having been beaten to near death by a group of young black men for making them wait at a light after his car stalled.)

I cried. I didn't even understand half of what he was saying. But it did something to me. He cared. They cared. I worked very hard. I practiced day and night. I was the top 3rd in math in my classes. I won spelling bees. I participated in math-a-lons. I succeeded. At the end of the year, my teacher had me stay after school.

So eager to start his retirement up north, grandpa didn't want to wait the last few weeks of school to move. So I had to leave early. I couldn't figure out why I was in 'trouble'.

Instead she surprised me though by taking me to Big boys for a strawberry sundae. I'll never forget that teacher. She treated me like I was somebody special, she saw all my potential. She never defined me by who my mom was, and the life she had been living.

My grandpa could be the grumpy type. He was a heavy drinker, not violent, just an alcoholic. I'd often joke he was Archie bunker. Like all of us, he had his imperfections, and demons.

But he was a good man, extremely generous, and a fabulous host. In all the times he came out here to visit, he'd never let Richard pay for dinner. Even when he'd visit you, he'd drive around to find the closet Moose club, to buy you a drink.

If I saw a commercial for broccoli and cheese, and I said that looked good, the next day it would be in the freezer. My grandma joked that if she wanted something, she should have me ask.

At a time when he should be retiring, he became like a surrogate dad for me. He took me with him to woods to chop trees for firewood. There were dune buggy rides, and visits to the soo locks near canada. I traveled with them all over the state, and throughout the southern states.

For my birthday that first year, he gave my grandma $100 to give me a birthday. I had never had a birthday party before. (except for my 5th, again given by my grandma) I rarely was even given a gift by my mom.

For the following birthday I asked for a German shepherd. He looked high and low for one, and surprised me with a little pup I named Heidi. She ended up being a beagle mix and had legs 4 inches tall. The rule was that she couldn't sleep in the house.

That dog meant the world to me. She was the best dog ever. Of course she was, she was my only dog ever. So when he saw that I was sleeping in the doghouse with her, he relented and let her come into my room. The rule was, she couldn't sleep in my bed.

When he saw, that she was not only sleeping on the bed, but used her own pillow, he gave up.

I was never spanked really, mostly because I didn't need to be, and grandma wasn't the type. But if grandpa got angry and would raise his hand to me (he never would have hit me) she'd get up and growl in his face.

If grandma pretended to smack my hand, he'd do the same. Through grandpa I gained a loyal four legged friend as well.

My mom began calling & confusing me. She selfishly manipulated me into moving back with her. I was finishing 5th grade. She lied to the courts and to my grandma about all that she had done to be a better mom. I was confused. I wanted to stay, and I wanted to go. My mom was filling my head with confusion & lies. (like she sent more cards then she really did!)

I loved my mom, as every kid does, and wanted to be with her too. Could it be better? The courts told my grandma, that she didn't even have to give me the phone, if her calls upset me. That legally, she didn't have to give me back. My mom would have to prove herself. Fearing I would resent her later on, my grandma agreed to let me move back. She kept asking me if I wanted to go. I was unable to decide what I wanted. Yes and no, I'd say. I'd tell my best friend when she'd cry, begging me not to go, "But my mom wants me now. I can go back to California, my mom is calling me and is sorry."

I moved back the summer going into 5th grade, where I again, slept on the floor & went without clothes & food. I'd cry and ask grandma to take me back. She couldn't, she'd say. For me, to have that taste of a happy childhood and lose it, was worse then if I never had it at all.

Years later, I learned something about grandpa during those 2 years I lived with them. My grandpa refused the courts offer of support. He never took a dime from the state. They could have been given a hefty monthly check for taking care of me. Why didn't he?

Because, he never ever, wanted me to think that like--everyone else in my life,--he used me for a government hand out. He told my grandma, he didn't want "that child" to think it was only for the money, that she was being used again.

He never wanted me to think his motivations were other then to give me a better life, to show me a better way, and to show me I was worth something and could do things with my life.

He never wanted me to think it was for the money. It was for love. A little girl he grew to love who wasn't even related to him by blood.

Good bye, grandpa. Thank you. I love you.

Ronald Shepard Ogg
February 28, 1921- May 2, 2005

(That's Squishy with grandpa, they share the same middle name)