Best thing that happened in 2010? The arrival of these three beauties:
Second best thing? Getting my grandfather out to Iowa to meet and spend a few precious days with his first (three) great-grandchildren:
To be fair, there is a span of about six months from June to December where I’m sure that some other really great things happened as well…unfortunately most that time remains a blur to me now. Yet even while my memory remains fuzzy, this event still stands alone above the rest. And while it may seem odd that a visit from not-so-distant relation qualifies as an earth shattering event, well…then you simply don’t know my grandfather.
Growing up, my grandfather Tom [we called him Gagie (GAH-gee)] made for a rather intimidating man (but not in a mean/scary kind of way): routine was the name of his game and nothing was ever out of place in his house; we had formal Christmas dinners of lamb and mint jelly while dressed in our Sunday-best; no talking while the golf was on (he would typically be watching golf on the occasions in which my siblings and I would visit) until the commercials, at which point he would mute the TV to allow conversation which was brief and to the point; he never troubled himself for any longer than he would deem necessary.
Above all else the first word that came to mind when saying his name: golf. The man had an absolute passion for the game, playing renowned courses the world over…he was even president of the Maryland State Golf Association at one time, and was still able to “shoot his age” as he increasingly grew older. Heck, he even bought me my first set of clubs, and even paid for my lessons until he realized that my desire to play at the time was akin to watching paint dry.
Yet we loved him, and despite all of his particulars there was never a doubt for one millisecond that he loved us back.
For as long as I can remember he has always been a snow bird, spending winters at his home in Florida. And while he had amassed quite the passport stamp collection over the years, his travelling dwindled significantly later in life, only allowing for his annual pilgrimage to West Palm Beach and back…which is why getting him out to fly-over country was such a spectacular event.
And he genuinely loved it here. Maybe it was that he was seeing his great-grandchildren for the first time, or maybe it was that never in his wildest imagination would have thought that he would intentionally get on a plane to Des Moines…but there was unmistakably a permanent smile on his face for the entire duration of his stay.
Sadly, that would the last time he would visit Iowa.
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Diagnosed with cancer last August after doctors found tumors on his pancreas and liver, Gagie still remained his old-Gagie self. With a steady (if not lite) regiment of chemo treatments, he even felt well enough to travel back to Florida for (what I’m sure he thought would be) one last time. Yet the chemo was making him sick and ever increasingly weaker. Trips to the golf course were much less frequent, and even the simple task getting dressed was (at times) a challenge in itself.
After a follow-up appointment in early May, it was shown that the chemo wasn’t having its desired effects, so the decision was made to stop them all together…which was when I made the decision to see him and talk to him one last time. The thought was that I would hitch a ride back to Hagerstown with my siblings who visited over Memorial Day weekend, visit for a few days and say my final goodbyes, and then fly back later in the week.
Yet his condition worsened too quickly…faster than anyone had ever expected…and I was told just to wait until the funeral; it would be better to grieve all together with the whole family than to see him in the deteriorated condition he was in.
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Gagie finally lost his battle on May 29, 2012 and the proper arrangements were soon made. I flew back to Hagerstown the following Friday, only I wasn’t alone: thanks to some shuffling on the home front (a.k.a. awesome grandparents and aunts) and a boatload of credit card reward miles, Missy and Lola would be coming with me as well.
So out of our sadness came joy…not only would the whole family be together again (a rarity considering how spread out we all are these days), but everyone would get to meet the newest addition to the Hardinge clan: Lola Margret.
She was spectacular on the plane ride, even despite spending an extra hour and a half on the tarmac in Detroit waiting for storms to clear out of Dulles.
Renting a car went off without a hitch, and by 8:00PM we were enjoying pizza and conversation with those closest to us, most especially my siblings Hannah, Addie, and Robert.
Saturday was a tough day, but being there with all our close friends and extended family on the Hardinge side (whom we see much less frequently than my mother’s side) brought joy, even in the sadness. After the morning funeral, a reception at the golf club where he was almost royalty (no lie) brought together many people we hadn’t seen in ages, and the stories and tall tales were flowing like water. Everyone who stopped over to pay their respects was beaming with happiness in the company of the latest addition to the family tree.
The afternoon ended back at my Dad’s place, where my siblings, parents, and I sat around living in memories made with Gagie.
The same memories that may have intimidated me while we were younger seemed down-right hilarious looking back on them as we chatted and laughed well into the night.
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Sunday was spent in Frederick, hanging out with Hannah and Chris at their place…something we have never had the chance to do, especially with our three little sidekick’s in-tow. However, with our one sleeping baby…
…we were able to enjoy a few hours walking the shops downtown before spending another evening with the family, this time over a good ol’ fashioned crab feed (an absolute must when visiting Maryland April – October)!
We spent the night at Hannah’s, staying up way too late after being introduced to what has quickly become our new board game crush: Settlers of Catan!
Monday was the most low-key day of the journey, arriving back in Hagerstown mid-afternoon, stopping by for a visit with my grandmother (who thought that she would never get to meet Lola)…
…before having a quiet dinner back at Dad’s later in the evening. Rob had already returned to Virginia the previous day, and Addie was on the road to Tennessee, so only a few remained from the busy family weekend.
We were heading back to the airport for our (much less intense) flight home by 8:15 the next morning
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Gagie will surely be missed.
I will always second guess not calling him more. I will always feel guilty for not making a better effort to keep in touch. I will always second guess not going to visit him sooner, knowing that the end was so near.
He became a lot more open, warm, and family-oriented as the years went by. I increasingly enjoyed our conversations we had, even though they almost always centered on golf. Who he thought the best player right now was (Rory McIlroy)…the favorite course that he’s ever played (Royal County Down in Northern Ireland…which was surprising, considering he’s played at Pebble Beach, Augusta, and the Old Course at St. Andrews). His anecdotes increasingly became more bewildering, like the story from the time he was in Scotland and met the great Jack Nicklaus before one the most famous Open Championships in history, in which Tom Watson won by one stroke at Turnberry in 1977.
I’m sure there were many more he had to share if I would have just asked…
Gagie even started using e-mail of all things last winter…and although that didn’t last very long, the few that he did manage to send were very unintentionally hilarious.
I will always cherish the memories I have of him, especially from his visit to Iowa…
…the trip where we never saw the smile leave his face.