Remembering Grandpa

Friday, August 16, 2013

I never put much stock in the old "deaths come in threes" adage. Nevertheless, we will soon be celebrating the life of someone close to us for the third time this year.

Kenneth Stanley McCarty was a long-standing and involved member of his church, community, and family, but I just knew him as "Grandpa." Whenever I lose a grandparent, I always feel the keenest loss at feeling like I didn't really know much about them or their life, and that is true now, also, to a degree. However, I was fortunate enough to know him some, and I was glad of the time we spent together.

When I was a little girl, I used to love biking around Lacombe with Grandpa. He taught me how to use hand signals for safety, and the rules of the road when biking. He didn't take me as often as I wanted to go (something to do with him actually wanting to get some exercise, I'm sure), but those were still treasured memories.

Around the time I was born (his first grandchild), he went into semi-retirement and drove school bus for income. In between, he also picked up running as a hobby. By the time I was a teenager, he had a wall full of medals and trophies of all sizes, colours, and shapes. I remember watching him carry the Olympic Torch for a mile on its trip across Canada when the 1986 Olympics were in Calgary. It never occurred to me how special and unique that was until I would tell my friends that my Grandpa still ran marathons, and see the look of amazement on their faces.

Grandpa was extremely musical. When we were kids, he would serenade us with old songs from the 40s and 50s, or hymns, or gospel songs, and accompany himself on the guitar or the accordion. One of my favourite photos of us together is when I was still a baby, lying on their couch, Grandpa with his poofy red-brown sideburns and accordion, singing something or other to me.

When I was a teenager, he recorded a cassette tape of two songs for me--"The Bull Song", an oldie by Wilf Carter, and "The Teddy Bear's Picnic", another one he often sang by popular demand. He had a steady voice with good pitch. Unfortunately, that tape was in the vehicle that was stolen from me when I was in college, and was among the items never recovered.

A couple of years ago, some of my uncles, my mom,  and I were encouraging Grandpa to sing us a few songs. By that point, his memory had declined to the point that some of the words never did come to him. Between us, though, we did manage to remember most of "The Bull Song", a humourous tale of a cowboy who finds a rogue bull on the range and determines to bring him home at any cost. It's proper name is "The Riding of the Maverick", but everyone who knew Grandpa always just called it "The Bull Song".

When I reached adulthood, Grandpa seemed much more meek and timid than I remembered him. Really, he was always just kind of quiet, and that reserved nature sometimes made me unsure around him as an adult. I have one very vivid memory of him and Grandma at our kitchen table, though. They had come to visit us when Jason and I still lived in Sylvan Lake. Grandma made some remark, like she tends to do, that hinted that "Ken" wasn't living up to her expectations. For the first time (in my memory), I heard him make a rather witty comment back. She did not catch it, but I did. It was the first time I had seen him stand up to her bullying a bit, and after that, I had more respect for the man. I suddenly saw a man who maybe didn't show it most of the time, but who had loved this woman, despite her flaws, for so many years that little comments like she makes didn't concern him. They were her problem, not his. He just lived his life, anyway, doing the best he could with the cards he was dealt.

Seeing his mental and physical decline over the last few years has been hard, made worse because it seems so sudden. For a man winning gold marathon medals into his seventies to go downhill so quickly was quite shocking to me, and it was emphasized by difference between visits with my sporadic contact with him. I think he always remembered me when he saw me, but I saw the haze of confusion in his eyes for a few minutes when he saw my boys, until he put the pieces together again.

Grandpa always had a hug, and a smile, and a helping hand for those that needed it. He lived his faith, and was generous to a fault.

I'll miss you, Grandpa, but I look forward to catching up with you when we're both on the other side of the Pearly Gates. Scout out the best scenic routes--I bet biking around the Holy City will be the best memory yet.

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