A Tribute: For My Grandpa

This morning, my grandpa finally gave in and breathed his last. He fought so hard for his life. My mom has said more than once that he was living on borrowed time, and it really did seem like it. He had multiple heart attacks and eventually lost the function of his kidneys. As time went on, his pain level sky rocketed and he fought for even a few minutes of peace, even if that was all he'd get in a day or week. It was painful for all of us, to see him suffering, but of course we are all sad that he is no longer here with us too. It's hard to put into words, this mixture of emotions. Instead, I'll just recall some of my favorite things about him.

He always had a word of advice. Don't be mistaken, though, he wasn't that crazy old man that thought he knew everything. His advice was good. If he was telling you something that could potentially help you out, you listened. He just knew a little bit about everything. 

He genuinely cared about what was going on in our lives. When my life was all about diapers and feedings and nap schedules, he would reminisce about the struggles and laughs they had as young parents. He was never above any topic of discussion. He just loved to chat.

He really, truly loved my grandma. I rarely saw him tear up, but he did on multiple occasions when it came to her life, well being, and health. I know that he fought so hard to live, even with the huge amount of pain he had, because he was worried about her life after he was gone. Their marriage showed me what true companionship is like. They were together since their twenties, and really only knew life together. It was and is inspiring. I have huge prayers for my grandma now, living this life without him. She's a strong woman, stronger than she probably gets credit for, but it doesn't mean that it will be easy for her. 

He was a pretty great grandpa. My mom often said that he was a lot softer as a grandpa than he was as a father, as is most often the case. He loved to have babies sitting on his lap and would listen to our stories and songs with a huge grin on his face. For being a "tough old farmer", he told me he loved me and was proud of me more times than I can remember, and always encouraged us with our passions and dreams even if he didn't understand or completely agree with them. 

He was a stubborn old farmer :). My memory of him from when I was younger was of a tough broad shouldered man with a hat on his head and a toothpick in his mouth. He'd come in from working hard in the field or in the work shed, hands stained with oil, knuckles swollen from years of hard manual work and eat up whatever Grandma had ready for him. Lunch time always included discussions about this and that (mostly with my uncle, his only son and business partner) and a good solid nap afterward before he got back to work in the afternoon. It wasn't until he retired from farming that I saw him sit back and relax a bit. He was always busy with something, though. Growing up, I'm sure there was something in every room that he had made for me as a Christmas or birthday present. He was a self-taught handy man.

He loved to make bread. He would make bread and give it to my mom since he would end up with too much. He absolutely loved fresh fruits and vegetables and trust me, you knew how he felt about poorly cooked meat. He made sure that everyone knew. There was no reason in the world to cook it poorly and he just couldn't wrap his head around why anybody would do it.

He and my grandma always made a point to come to as many concerts or events as they could for my mom, sister, and myself. They only lived a half hour away from us, so we saw them quite often. Many a holiday was spent out at their farm and we'd stay overnight out there while mom and dad, the teachers, started up work again (the week before our school started). Memories of sitting on their screened-in porch are plentiful. Fresh corn on the cob, apples, and tomatoes were enjoyed. Riding bike on the driveway and swinging on the tire swing was a regular thing. He was always around, working on this or that, and I can just picture him with his "Hiya, Sarah!" and big grin on his face, slowly making his way back to the house to sit down for a bit before finding another big project to work on.

I think what I will always remember most is the time we spent together by my grandma's hospital bed as she slept or did her therapy. We would sit there for hours and I would drill him about anything and everything to do with his past. At first, he just gave me generic, short answers. I dug in, though, because I'm a history nerd and love to hear about the details. Eventually, I proved to him that I was truly interested and he went on for hours with how he got his farm land, how he met my grandma, how their lives were as newlyweds and young parents, and much more. His favorite thing by far, though, was to tell me all the horror stories of their problems with rodents, particularly snakes. You see, my phobia of snakes (it is so bad... so so bad) most likely started out at their farm. Once he learned this, he just had to tell me about all the different incidents that occurred with those dreadful snakes, mice, and bats. I was horrified, and he laughed at my expense for longer than I thought was necessary. Now, though, I'm grateful for the memory of getting to know my grandpa even more. It was worth it.

That is my perspective. I'm sure that my cousins, aunts, and uncles would have many things to add, would maybe say, "No way, that's not how I remember him!" but that is what I think of when I remember my grandpa.

I miss him. I cried more than I thought I would and keep having these memories flashing through my mind. He was a big part of my life, probably more so than I've given him credit for. I'm thankful for the years we had with him, and that I was able to see him at Christmas time, knowing that it might be the last time.

A few pictures that I dug up of him (thank you to my cousins who I hope don't mind me copying these from facebook pages):

The next few are at my wedding. We were so excited to get married at Phelp's Mill, a historic park that isn't far from their home. They would bring their kids here when they were young and had many great memories that they would share with us. At the time, we were concerned with my grandma's health more than his. He was doing pretty well, but my grandma had just a stroke that she wasn't expected to recover from . He was so strong as she leaned on him all through her recovery (which was nothing short of miraculous). These pictures mean the world to me.

Grandma insisted on standing in these pictures, even though it was hard for her. Grandpa had his cane, which he later traded in for an electric wheelchair. This seems so long ago! A lot can change in 4 1/2 years.

My grandpa absolutely loved and respected my hubby. Grandpa was always asking what he was working on now and truly loved to have a good long conversation about the different challenges and techniques my hubby was doing with his various jobs (a contractor who mostly builds high end decks, there are always problems arising and being solved around here).

This particular visit, he insisted on holding squirmy Josie, who was only about 5 1/2 months old. Amazingly, she sat on his lap for almost the entire visit, something she never did for anyone. He made faces at her and tickled her with that huge grin on his face, and she just loved it. I loved it too. He was such an awesome grandpa (and great-grandpa). 

Fishing was a huge passion in his life. I only went with him a few times, which is funny because of all of the things I like and don't like about the outdoors, I really do enjoy fishing. I just never went with him. My cousins, on the other hand, went with him all the time. This picture has been passed around for years, because he was sooooo proud of it. He was always so proud of his grandchildren. None of us ever doubted that. Whether it was for graduating high school, community college or university, joining the army, starting a family, catching a huge fish, performing a voice or instrumental solo, or even learning to crotchet, he was always proud.

Just a mom and pop with their kiddos. ;)

At the lake, another celebration with his family. I think that the lake became one of his favorite places on earth as he got older. Besides his farm, which he would tell me about in great detail, how much he loved the rolling hills, trees, the river, how perfect his land was, etc, my parents' lake place was a true joy for him. He absolutely loved the scenery and fresh air. Nothing made him happier in the last few years.

Celebrating Christmas last year. Audrey was only about 3 weeks old. As always, he was thrilled to hold her and take in all her baby goodness. I'm sure he held her for close to an hour as she happily dozed in his arms.

Celebrating his 85th birthday with his family. Grandma is holding Audrey who is only about 3 months old.
These two were like two peas in a pod. A father and his only son, business partners, best friends. They were always together. 

This is the last time I saw him, celebrating Christmas just a couple of weeks ago. He looks pretty great in this picture considering how much pain he was in. I'm proud of him for always putting on a happy face for us even though he didn't feel like it. He truly loved his family!


  1. this needs to be printed for mom to appreciate months from now. .priceless & beautiful

  2. Fantastic hun ... absolutely perfect! Thank you for sharing the love of a husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather! He will be missed dearly - and remembered always!

  3. Char Oehlke1/09/2014

    Sarah this is an absolutely beautiful tribute to your Grandpa. Do make sure you make copies of this for your Mom and all of you because down the road it will mean even more to all of you. I lost my Dad 9 years ago and I know how difficult this is and what you are all going thru. My memories of all the great times I had with Dad are what keep me going but you never get over missing them.
    My thoughts and prayers are with all of you during this difficult time..

  4. Tisha Welter1/09/2014

    Thank you soo much for sharing! Means alot to Chris and I;we will see you and the family this summer !

  5. Sue Schonhardt1/09/2014

    What an absolute wonderful tribute to your Grampa. Harv was one of those very special people that we will all remember for being such a caring, loving person!!