No one would describe my grandfather as a meek or gentle man. Quite frankly, he was pretty stubborn and cantankerous and opinionated, sometimes a plain old son of a bitch. But he had to be. My grandfather worked as a coal miner while he went to college. He helped immigrants pass their citizenship tests. He fought to gain money for victims of black lung. He was so obstinate that he once had a fistfight with a man over watermelon -- the man liked watermelon, and my grandfather didn't. Reason enough to throw punches.
Times were tough, he figured, so he had to be tougher.
But beyond the prickly exterior, he was a sentimental guy at heart, a proud father, grandfather and great-grandfather. He kept a scrapbook overflowing with all of his large family's accomplishments next to his recliner, flipping through its ragged pages long after his eyes were too bad to read the yellowing articles about my uncle's promotion at Westinghouse or my father's home runs. He would grab near-strangers by the arm when we were together in public and give them my entire curriculum vitae. And he would yell at me until I accepted his $20 bill every visit, hollering, "Take it, dammit! Take it!"
My pap died late last night. He was 97. And I don't care what people say about it being easier to let go if someone is old and led a good life. He was certainly old, and I believe he led a good life, but I can't imagine it ever would have been easy to say goodbye to him.
I'm so grateful that my trip home, planned weeks before his kidneys began to fail, gave me a few more precious days with him. In his final hours, he inquired about the World Series and asked for a shot of whiskey. He was himself until the end.
I miss him already.