Saturday, March 12, 2011

Grandpa Mac

I had just gotten back from a record store. Had to pick up a CD box set I had been waiting on for a long time. Drove on out to Strongsville in the morning, so I could get back in time to have some messing around time before I headed to my second-shift job. When I got back to the house, I was informed that my grandfather had died the night before. March 13, 1996.

Grandpa Mac. He was Dr. A. Stanley MacNair to a great many people, but he was Grandpa Mac to me. Never Doctor, never Stan. He was Grandpa Mac, and I was Sean. Not hey you, not get out of here I have a doctorate and I have better things to do, never anything like that. Grandpa Mac.

Grandparents have a mythical reputation in the eyes of the grandchild. After all, who else can make your parents do what they say? Who else can make your parents feel guilty? Maybe my experience is a little more idealistic than most, but it's the only experience I know. I loved Grandpa Mac, and he loved me.

He wrote a book! When I was young, I thought that was very cool. When I got old enough to understand the book, I bought up every copy I could find, from Ebay, from Amazon, from Alibris, just so I could say "You know, the author of this book was my grandfather." Yeah, I name-dropped, and yeah, no one really cared. Except one.

He was a Baptist minister, but if you think you know what he was like just by my saying "Baptist minister", you don't know squat. Fire and brimstone was not his style. He was a man of words, but not wordy. And he never let you know how much "book learning" he had.

My father and I took a trip to visit my grandparents in California in 1993. We spent three days on a Greyhound bus, which I don't recommend. But we got to see my father's family, we got to eat great chinese food, I got to visit Alcatraz and see an honest-to-god Berkeley liberal protest, and I got to watch Grandpa Mac, my Aunt Helen, and my father engage in epic Scrabble battles. But one night, my father went to bed early due to catching pneumonia on the bus; my grandmother went to bed; all of the visitors went home; and there was only two. I sat in one recliner, and Grandpa Mac sat in "his chair". And we talked. We talked about religion, we talked about church history, and he listened to me. Dr. A. Stanley MacNair Jr., with a doctorate from UCLA and numerous pastorates under his belt, a man on the board of trustees of an Oklahoman college, listened. He certainly had more knowledge of church history than me, and had more life experience with different church bodies in order to place beliefs in some sort of context, but he cared about my beliefs and my church experiences. After an hour or so of discussion, he got up slowly from his chair, walked past me, but before disappearing down the hallway he laid a hand on my shoulder and cast a wordless glance that spoke volumes.

I had no idea that this visit would be the last time I saw Grandpa Mac in person. As we went back into the bus station, he looked at me and said "You came here a child, but you're leaving a man!" Of course I was a man, I was 27 years old. But until then the relationship between my California family and myself had always been child-grandparent (or aunt). That day in 1993 it became one adult to another.

1995 was my "hell year", one of many, but one in which I didn't give a whole lot of thought to writing letters to anyone. But my grandparents were never far from my mind. In January of 1996 I wrote my grandparents a long letter, explaining that I hated my job, I hated my lack of social life, and the results of that hatred put me in a psych ward for three days. Sorry, Grandma and Grandpa, I didn't have time for you. I knew Grandpa's health was failing, and his ability and/or desire to speak was declining; I knew Grandma treated thank-you notes at Christmas as if they were the Holy Grail; I just didn't make the time, selfish ass that I was.

In February of 1996 I received a phone call. My grandmother was on the other line, but she only held the phone to tell me that my grandfather had something to say to me. And the voice of my grandfather, my beloved Grandpa Mac, the voice that had been faltering progressively over the past several months, that voice spoke loudly and clearly.

"I'm not able to speak well these days. But I just wanted to tell you that I love you."

And a month later he was gone, dying at night, without family around to watch him slip away.

He picked some great last words for me to remember him by. "I just wanted to tell you that I love you."

But even without those words, I already knew.


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