Monday, June 21, 2010

A Letter to My Grandfather

Dear Grandy,

This Saturday, I will be running and walking a half-marathon in Seattle, Washington. That date will be 51 years to the day from your death from lung cancer. I still remember the phone ringing, my mom answering and saying a few words but mostly listening, and then hanging up the phone and starting to cry. It was a sad time for all of us.

I have thought many times what it meant to me to have you in my life for my first seven and nearly eight years of my life. You were my only grandparent still alive at my birth, or even close to it. You were a huge part of my early years in so many ways. One of my favorite childhood memories was you taking me for haircuts (which I didn’t especially like) and then out to lunch afterwards at the Horn and Hardart’s cafeteria. I thought it was so cool that they had all these trays of food and you could just point at what you wanted. It was fun spending time with you, just the two of us, while we were there.

You also used to let me beat you in checkers. Of course at the time as a six year old, I didn’t realize you were letting me win. I just thought I was the butt-kicking checkers king of the world! You would set up the board in such a way that I could jump 2 or 3 of your checkers with one move, then you’d say things like “Wow! That was a great jump! How did you do that?”

You loved working in the vegetable garden, and especially taking care of your beautiful rose garden behind the kitchen. For years afterwards, even though we didn’t take proper care of it, I would think of you when roses would bloom there. You’d walk me to and from school every day my first year, and maybe part of my second. Then you got ill and we watched you get weaker and weaker. My folks moved your bedroom to the first floor of our house, and eventually you had to go to a hospital. It wasn’t long after that when you passed away. It was scary and sad seeing you so ill.

Now you are long gone, but you have never been forgotten by me or by my brothers and sisters. I’m a man now, and I’m a cancer survivor, because things have changed in these 51 years. Cancer is still a dreaded and often deadly disease, but survival is no longer rare. I hope that by racing for a cure again this Saturday in Seattle, I am making one tiny step in the ultimate elimination of incurable cancers. I hope you would be proud of me, were you able to be here. But maybe you would just be thinking “Now why would anyone ruin a perfectly good day by running 13.1 miles if no one was chasing them?”

Thanks for being such a big part of my life. I will be thinking of you this June 26 as I race in Seattle, Washington.

“Little Art”

P.S. I am a grandpa now, too. I was there at my granddaughter's birth, lucky to still be alive. And you know, someday when she is a bit older, I just might let her think she is the butt-kicking checkers queen of the world!

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