Monday, January 23, 2012


That's what he called me.  Coralee. 

"Coralee" he would say. "Coralee, what is the meaning of this?" as a giant smile spread across his face. 

umpah and i circa 1988

I called him Umpah. Thereby paving the way for all the grandkids who followed to also call him that. Umpah.
Umpah passed away this weekend.  I said goodbye.  We all did.  Doesn't make it easier.  But knowing he's at peace now, that he can rest now, that makes it a little easier.

I share this not to solicit sympathy, but to share a life.  Share a passing, and a lesson.

Frozen bananas. He would unpeel them and wrap them in saran wrap.  Then freeze them.  And eat them.  All the time.

umpah at penn state in 1942, before the war.

Penn State.  Jo Pa.  Umpah graduated from Penn State in 1948, a year before he married my grandmother.  And the year before my Dad was born.  My grandfather was a Nittany Lion to his core.  He bled navy blue and white.  And he loved Joe Paterno.  Joe Paterno died on Saturday night too.  The coincidence didn't escape any of us.  And it's comforting in a way.  To know Umpah and JoPa are up there, having a beer, talking about tackles. 

He ate salad but never vegetables.

My grandfather loved swimming.  The sport.  With a passion.  He groomed my dad, uncle and aunt to be amazing swimmers and athletes.  And he loved the beach. 

Cold beer.  Miller lite more specifically.  Or gin.  Football.  Ice cream.  Those hats with the mesh in the back.  The weather.  Crossword puzzles.  Shooting the bull.  Watching his stocks.  Newspapers.

My grandfather shaved every single day.  He retired 27 years ago and shaved every afternoon. 'You have to shave, Cor.  Everyday.'  he would respond when I asked what he was going to do at two in the afternoon on a Wednesday.

umpah and my younger brother circa 1988

The last few years Umpah had become less active, and less interactive.  He had Alzheimer's, forcing him to take a backseat in conversations, do a lot of nodding and smiling, and talk about the weather.   Alzheimer's takes away the person.  The personality.  Not the life, but the life.  The life like the energy.  The passion.  The enthusiasm.  And he struggled to get around.  It's not how he would want me to remember him.  And it's not how I will remember him.

umpah, grandma and my parents after my parents were married

Back up a couple weeks to Christmas week.  We spent it at the beach with my parents and my dad brought along home movies (formerly VHS tapes converted to DVD, for posterity).  We went back to the 80's.  When I was 8 and my brother 3.  When slouchy socks and tube socks were cool, horizontal stripes in bright colors were worn with stirrups and Keds, and when you drove a wood grain station wagon (you know the ones where the way back seat faces backwards and you stare at the people behind you) instead of a minivan if you had kids. 

And when Umpah was healthy. 

When he played tetherball with us, took my new rollerblades for a spin, let my brother tackle him while they played football in the backyard.  When he walked miles a day and went for a daily bike ride to Publix to pick up a paper and chat with his buds.  When he said things like, 'thing of it is Cor...' and 'Well I'll be darned...'.  He's in those videos the way I want to remember him.  The way he would want me to remember him. 

My grandfather fought bravely inWorld War II.  And the Battle of the Bulge.  He earned a bronze star and a purple heart. He came home, married my grandmother and started a family.  Three kids.  Six grandkids.  Two great grandkids.  All because two people loved eachother.

He wrote notes.  Lots of them.  His wedding gift to us was a fireworks show at our wedding.  Fourth of July style.  A loan from him enabled us to buy our first house.  He sent me one of those quarter collection things (when they first came out with the 50 states quarters).  He had filled in about 60%half of it.  The rest was up to me.  Dan finished it.  Umpah would be proud of that.  When I was in college and we would talk he would ask on the regular if I was Suma Cum Laude.  I, of course, was not, but he wanted me to know he wanted me to work hard.  Study hard. 

umpah around 1927

My grandfather met my children.  Not many people can say that.  Sure, my kids might not remember, but I will.  And I have the pictures to show them some day.  The pictures.  Not an online album that will someday go the way of the dinosaur.  An actual physical picture that I had printed and I dutifully filed away in an album.  A real album. 

We will celebrate his life soon.  The way he would want it celebrated.  With family and friends and cold beer.  Not crying over a coffin in a church.  We will toast him.  And remember him.  And honor him.  The way he deserves to be remembered and honored.  We will laugh about his quirks and habits.

We will wrap my grandmother in love and support.  Her parnter of 63 years is gone.  Her high school sweetheart.  My heart hurts for her.  His wedding ring rests on her ring finger, next to hers.  They will be together again (but not anytime soon!).

Here's the lesson. 

My dad sacrificed his coolness card and hauled that enormous video camera just about everywhere.  Didn't care how silly he looked doing it.  And sure then, it may have been a joke among us.  But now?  Now I am so very thankful to have those memories, those times when Umpah was healthy.  So thankful. 

Take videos of your kids.  With your parents, with your grandparents (if you're as lucky as I am to still have grandparents), at family get togethers, or just on a random Tuesday afternoon.  Doesn't matter who's watching.  Your kids will want to watch someday.  And they will appreciate it.
And take your camera.  Everywhere.  Take pictures.  And have them printed.  And put them in an album, or a box, or on your walls.  Have them printed.  Or have a photobook printed every year.  Just have something you can touch.  Memories you can actually hold on to. 

And.  Tell people you love them.  Out loud.  Don't assume they know.  Tell them.  Because it's what makes the world go round.

all because two people loved eachother

I love you Umpah.  And miss you.  And will hold hard to those memories.  Forever.  We will take care of Grandma.  Rest in peace. 


Jill said...

What a wonderful tribute to your grandfather. The world lost an incredible man, for sure. I hope you find comfort with your family and thank you for sharing.

I'll charge up our digital video camera. Great advice.

Katy said...

This brought me to tears (in a good way). While I am sorry for your loss, I love that you hold such fond memories of your Umpah close to your heart. This was a good reminder to me to hold my family a little bit closer and tell them I love them every chance I get.

Katie @ Loves of Life said...

I'm sorry for your loss, honey. Sounds like a great man ;)

Amy E. said...

Your Umpah sounds like a wonderful, wonderful man. I'm sorry for your loss and so very thankful that your wrote this post. I will gladly trade my cool card for photos and videos of those that I love.

Corey said...

Thanks so much for your sweet words. The sadness comes in waves but it is nice knowing that a lesson I learned in his death may inspire some others to grab hold of those memories :)

Beth said...

My grandfather died in 2005 at the age of 96. Unfortunately my mother (his daughter) died 4 months later from cancer. So I went through the bitter (because of the double loss) sweet (because of the memories) task of sorting through literally thousands of photos in my parents basement in Michigan and am so happy to have the ones that I do, like you said, to hold onto. I am not sure in this digital age that our children understand it, the faded faces sometimes barely recognizable, but I guess that is our job as parents to preserve those kind of memories as best as we possibly can. Your grandfather, like mine, sounded like an amazing man and you should find comfort in knowing that you had so many fantastic years of memories with him.