It’s a peaceful summer day and the steely water of Lake Superior stretches into the fog, blending with the sky. Seagulls patrol the air, punctuating the stillness with their calls. A tiny cabin with whitewashed walls and red trim keeps lookout on the rocks, the pines closing in behind it. The cabin is full of people. It always is on weekends—relatives, friends, and the neighbors from up the hill. There’s probably music. Undoubtedly, there’s animated storytelling and loud bursts of laughter.
Two men walk down to the shore carrying lawn chairs, a boy trailing behind them. The two men love to talk and they needed some peace and quiet. Their names are Harry and Conrad and they’re still getting to know one another. Maybe they have yet to discover that they both play the harmonica, love reading Louis L’Amour westerns, and are fascinated by songbirds. Harry’s daughter is dating Conrad’s son. Maybe they know their children will get married. Maybe not.
What they don’t know is that someday they’ll be my grandfathers—the best ones a child could hope to have. Over the coming years, in the lives of their grandchildren, they’ll do their best to fix what’s broken. They’ll give hugs and pep talks and nicknames. They’ll applaud us at middle school choir concerts and hockey games. They’ll sing, tell stories, and sneak us treats behind our parents’ backs. When the time comes for me to leave for college and I’m second-guessing myself, they’ll tell me to go. They too had to leave home as young adults. To war. To work. To unfamiliar places. They’ll tell me that they made it, and that I can too.
Harry passed away more than three years ago. Conrad passed away this month. It’s a strange thing to have grandpas your whole life and then, not have any at all. I know that I’m fortunate to have known them as long as I did. But you can be fortunate and still sad. I miss them both.
I came across this photo while preparing a slideshow for my grandpa’s funeral last week. I’d like to think that this is how they are in heaven: younger, healthy, swapping stories in the sunlight. I can even guess how they greeted each other. “Hi there, old man,” one would say to the other. It was their usual way. I picture them waiting for the rest of us in this oddly familiar scene. When we see them again, they’ll stop mid-conversation, turn, and smile.