Yesterday was my grandfather's 91st birthday.
Please excuse me while I think out loud.
This photo was taken in 1977, I do believe. If I'm right then this was taken the year that my grandfather's leg was amputated after an accident at the scrap metal yard where he worked. Yikes. Sounds scary, eh? It was pretty scary, from what my parents told me. That being said, however, my grandfather is one of three amputees in our family (two legs, one arm), so despite the fact that it was a horrible accident, he knew that it wasn't the end of the world. This all happened at the edge of my memory, so while I was alive before the accident, I don't remember him before then. I do, however, have a vague memory of crawling up on the hospital bed beside him and snuggling in for a hug.
My grandfather loved us, the grandchildren, very much and he didn't want us to be afraid of his artificial leg so he made up a game for us: He would give us a rubber mallet, point to the artificial leg and let us have a whack at it. It was great fun and a good joke for company. We also used to get up early when he and my grandmother stayed the night so that we could "try on" his leg before he got out of bed. A child's leg, bent all the way, will fit into an adult's artificial leg (artificial is the word we grew up with, sorry if it's offensive). Also, a bent arm will fit into a prosthetic arm - the arm is a better trick because you look like an orangutan on one side! My friends are often horrified by this story, but we grew up with this being normal so we never thought it was odd.
I was absolutely certain, at the age of 5, that my grandfather was part bionic, like the 6 Million Dollar Man. In fact, I think I told my cousins from the other side of the family that very thing at barbecue that summer.
Our family has a really sick sense of humour about amputation as a result of having three amputees in the family... There are jokes about things costing an arm and a leg. There are stories of mishaps with my great-uncle's first prosthetic arm and the removable hand that had a poorly placed release button (somewhere out there, is a lady who picked up that hand from the floor of a darkened movie theatre and screamed in horror). As children whenever we hurt ourselves, my parents would say, "Lemme see that, are we going to have to amputate?" and as it seemed like a real threat, we often took stock of the situation and decided tears weren't necessary.
My grandfather was 63 when the accident happened. I don't think he really slowed down all that much. He always put in a garden and has the most amazing green thumb. He has mowed his lawn on his own for years (his mower is equipped with bicycle tires on the handles that make it more stable). My grandmother caught him on the roof of their house after the ice storm in 1998 - he was sitting up there scooping ice off the roof. He was 83 years old at the time!!!
This, however, is the first year that he won't be able to do all that. Despite the longevity in our family (my great grandfather lived to be 103), my grandfather has aged rapidly over the past 3 years. He's developed mild case of dementia, and his "good" leg has worn out from these past 28 years of not really using his artificial one properly. (When my dad's cousin, who is a surgical nurse, heard that the doctors were considering a knee replacement she said, "But if it doesn't heal properly, he won't have a leg to stand on!" Bwah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.)
All kidding aside, my grandfather's health has reached the point where he will have to go into a nursing home. He has fallen a few times and my grandmother is unable to lift him up. My father and his sisters are helping my grandmother in the process of getting him into a home. It's strange to see my grandfather, who I once believed to be impervious to anything (he is bionic, after all), growing frail.
In the photo, we were boating on the lake where our summer cottage is. My grandfather, always one to make the kids laugh with little jokes, picked the waterlilly and tucked it in his glasses. I remember (yes, I really can) laughing at how silly he looked with the flower covering one eye. And I remember the flowers that he gave to me and how they were cold and wet, but very pretty.
My grandfather was and is a woodsman, a farmer, a man who traded horses when there were horses and cars when he drove cars, a man who is very wise about things that most people don't realize are very important, a man who proudly grows gooseberries and rhubarb and raspberries, a man who wanted only for his children to get an education, a man who should not be left alone with nothing to do because he'll refinish the kitchen table whether it needs it or not, a man who feeds all birds without discrimination (even seagulls),a man who patiently taught all of his grandchildren how to play Cribbage and then soundly Skunked each and every one of us, a man who let us use his leatherworking tools to make whatever we wanted, a man who spent winters in wood camps hooking rugs in the long evenings, a man who did the best he could for his family his entire life, a man with hands that show how hard he worked, a man who I will always admire.
Happy Birthday, Gramps. Love ya!