15 years ago this month my Grandpa, Edward Reitz, passed away. This morning when I opened my email I had a message from my Aunt Carol with the text of a short memorial message my Grandma placed in her local paper. Included was this photo of Grandpa.
seeing his cheery face made me smile.
I wouldn't have known it's been 15 years, though I could have done the math. It was finals week at the end of my freshman year of college. I had not planned to go home at the end of the week because I was enrolled in a 3 week analytical chemistry course that started the Monday right after finals. My Mom called Scott to ask when my finals would be over as she didn't want the news of Grandpa's passing to affect my remaining tests. Of course once I received the news there was no question about making the trip home for the funeral. It would be a short and intense trip, but so necessary for so many reasons.
I've been fortunate in my life in the fact that I've not had to say goodbye to many loved ones. I remember being so worried about viewing Grandpa's body. I'd viewed cadavers in a medical A&P lab, but hadn't much had to look at the lifeless body of someone who I'd loved. I was surprised when viewing his body wasn't the most difficult part of the ceremony. I mean yes, that was Grandpa's body, but it wasn't Grandpa. His body, his face, carried nothing I knew of him without his spirit.
Grandpa Reitz was a kind, caring, generous, loving, smart, amazing man. He made us grand kids popcorn on the stove top with his old hand turn corn popper, which we enjoyed with a small juice glass of Coke. He loved black licorice and kept a canister of bit sized pieces on the kitchen counter. It was almost impossible not reach into for a piece or two when we were out visiting the farm, and to this day I think of my Grandparent's farm when I eat a piece of black licorice. In the summer there was a bag of snack sized Snickers bars in the freezer which Grandma packed into a small cooler with a few sodas so we could take treats out to Grandpa and the guys in the field for afternoon break. At Christmas, even though the rule was kids opened their gifts first once all the packages were passed out, Grandpa could never wait and would rip into his presents with the joy of a kid set free in a candy store. Grandma would always scold him. Then we would all laugh. Such small, simple memories, but ones I will always carry with me.
In high school I had to do an interview project and choose to interview my Grandparents. While I can't remember the point of the project or any specific questions which I asked, I will always remember the time spent learning about who my Grandparents were before they were my Grandparents. I may have never known that they had lived and farmed in California and had watched their neighbors/friends be taken away to internment camps during WW II simply because of their Japanese heritage. I might have never learned that one of their favorite pastimes when they were young was hitting the skating rink and that apparently they were a pretty hot couple on 16 wheels.
This past March when we ventured west for our annual visit "home" the girls and I spent some time visiting Grandma Reitz. At one point Brea, with her 3-year-old perspective on life, ask where "the Grandpa" was. In her world Grandmas and Grandpas just naturally come as a pair. Grandpa simply responded that "the Grandpa" was no longer here. And then she turned to me with such sadness in her face and commented that it had almost been 15 years since his passing. It was such an intimate moment. A moment when her love for him and her heart break for his loss vividly flashed across her face. So intimate I was almost uncomfortable in the intensity of the energy of that brief moment. I think as grand kids it's easy to forget that our grandparents existed in a time and life before we physically came to know them. That they shared many years of joys, struggles, accomplishments, and heart-breaks that welded their love and friendship and helped to define our family.
I often think of my Grandpa Reitz in the spring. He was a farmer through and through. I love heading out of town into the country side this time of year for nothing more than the smell of freshly turned earth. My grandpa loved the farm. Loved the process. Loved to share his knowledge and appreciation for the land that helped him to provide for his family. My heart only needs one sniff of the organic richness of the fresh, moist spring earth to understand the blessings that came with being loved by my Grandpa. It's that same sniff of soil that assures me that while physically not present, he is still very much here sharing my life and my family with me. The blessings continue.