When I heard that my grandfather died, it didn't register at first. My immediate family was on the east coast, my mom's family in Arizona, and I was right in the middle. Other than a phone call and a couple of text messages, I didn't have any frame of reference for what had happened.
There were always miles between that part of the family and us, though we made every opportunity to trek across the country, by plane or car, to see them. And whenever we did, Grandpa was always there. My grandpa on my Dad's side died when I was about six, so almost all the memories I have of the patriarchal figure more than my Dad was with Grandpa.
He told us the stupidest jokes you could imagine, but somehow always made them funny. When my parents would yell at my cousins, my brothers and me about farting or doing gross kids things, Grandpa would always chuckle and join in. I've still never heard (nor will I again) anyone destroy Republicans in arguments so swiftly and with such a level head.
The last time he picked my family up from the airport, we pulled up to the booth to pay. He reaches into his wallet, pulls out a five dollar bill and says to the toll clerk, "Here you go, this is the good one. That's the one with my face on it." Classic Grandpa.
So it was weird when I got off the plane after arriving in Phoenix and it was my parents to greet me instead of him. He wasn't smiling his big smile while leaning on his cane, nor did I see any big, bright Marine Corps hats. That was OK, it still felt like he would be at my Aunt's house ready to hug me with his huge bear-like arms.
But he wasn't. It really hit me the next day when we were going through his things at my grandparents house. His old history and civil war books, shirts and hats. Every time I walked into the living room I expected to see him plopped on the couch in front of the tv, watching the news. But he wasn't.
I always yearn for the times when we can go back to the desert because it feels like home with the family we have there. I didn't want to go this time. Getting further away from having been in college, starting a life on my own, I would much rather be able to go back there when I can and hear his war stories, his jokes and his voice.
I did some shooting while I was out there and during the service to help me cope with what was going on. I want to share this with all of you because I am fortunate enough to have a job where people, strangers, let me into their lives. Sometimes for a long time, sometime for just minutes. But I get to show people they have never met who they are and what their story is. I want to return the favor and let you all in to what we did last week.
This is for my Grandpa George.