You might remember that my grandfather, Ronald Skipper, died in July of this year(detailed in the post A Death in the Family: Part 1). 

Now, my other grandfather, Thurman Totten, has taken leave of this earth.

(I didn’t want to use a euphemism, like “passed away,” because they annoy me.  But some will think my “taken leave” comment is too flowery or possibly sarcastic.  To those people, I say “get over it.”)

My grandpa Totten was 89 years old when he died.  And while his last few months were a struggle (my parents took care of him at their home while his wife spent much of the time in the hospital for her own serious ailments), the bulk of his life was spent joyfully doing the stuff he liked best:  fixing stuff, climbing on roofs, driving big trucks, selling myriad products and running several campgrounds.

What do I mean by “selling myriad products?”  I remember that he used to make those specialty license plates; you know, the ones with an ocean sunset scene and your name airbushed on it.  For a while, he made those wood carvings that spelled out a person’s name.

He was a short man who wore one big shoe (because of a bad hip injury) and had 9.5 fingers.  I don’t know the exact story of how he lost half of that thumb (something about trying to carry an engine out of a basement after overhauling it during the winter) but I do know that he could pinch really hard with the nub.

My biological mother shares the story of the time he took her to the hospital to give birth to my older brother.  When it was time to go (you know, contractions and the like) she walked out the front door and hollered for him.  He looked up from his work and noticed the look on her face.  With his big shoe, he leaned quite a lot and had to drag his bad leg over in a “hop” kinda walk.  She had never seen him run until that day, but she says he sure could move!

After a divorce from my father’s biological mother, he remarried.  He was sixty!  I was very young at the time, so his new wife, my new grandma Totten, became an integral part of the family.

My grandfather fought in WWII.  Stationed in England, he would repair downed planes.  A few years ago, he received a phone call from an Englishman looking for his father, Thurman Totten.

He had been married and had two small children when stationed in England.  Unfortunately, the marriage ended when it was time to return to the States.  And while his American wife knew about the previous English wife, they decided not to tell the American children until they got older.  Sadly, time never seemed right, and it wasn’t until the English wife died and her children researched their past that the events and relationships came to light.

I’m sure that my grandfather wanted to tell his U.S. kids about his U.K. kids.  But I’ve also been told that he had no chance or permission to ever see the U.K. kids again.  He must have believed that telling the five kids he had here would only do unnecessary harm.

Fortunately, he was happy to hear from his English kids, even though they were now past middle age.  And they were excited to meet their American family.  And his later kids?  They were amazed to know that our gigantic family was even bigger and welcomed them with open arms.

My dad tells me that my grandfather could bark a lot when they were both younger.  My dad learned how to back a tractor trailer because my grandfather stood and the running boards and shouted at him the whole time.

But I remember the little man with the ready smile and the thin comb-over who answered questions like “would you like coffee, tea or water” with “just bring me somethin’ wet.”  Often, when we thought he was sitting in silence because his hearing aid was off again, it turned out that he was just observing, as he’d pipe up with a relevant comment or witty retort when needed.

I’ve learned a lot from my grandfather.  I learned that everything you own CAN fit into a camper van.  I learned that keeping your mouth shut is often the very best policy.  I learned that being old doesn’t mean being useless.

And I learned a lot from my dad, as he and my mother worked to keep his father safe during these last few months.  My father is a gregarious man, who likes nothing more than to tell you a story and hear you laugh.  The way this boisterous, funny guy showed immense patience and took care of his father during his last days made me proud to be his son. 

So I’ll spend this week saying goodbye to another grandfather.  Thanks for your understanding while I take some time off.

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