I was a fairly young man when I lost the last of my four biological grandparents. In fact, it was 17 years ago today that my Grandpa Wilson passed away, leaving me without a grandparent…
…or so I thought.
Each of my parents’ parents were unique in their own way, and I would like to think that I carry with me and channel a little bit of them on a daily basis.
My Grandma Hattori was a small, gentle woman who had the amazing ability to taste something once and then go home and duplicate it perfectly. Though technically untrained, she was probably the best cook I ever knew. I would like to think that a small part of her lives every day in my kitchen…
My Grandpa Hattori was was proud man, who, fortunately for me, kept nearly all of his hair until the very end. By the time I really got to know him as an older teenager, he had grown his hair out to shoulder length…a stark contrast to the buzzcut he had sported through the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. As a Japanese man who lived through World War II, he very easily could have looked at his half-gaijin grandson and wanted nothing to do with him. Instead, through me, he saw a world coming together, a future of peace. I laugh every time I think of him because back in 1988, he said to me in, “you represent two worlds coming together as one. You will be President of America someday.” Though my behavior in college has pretty much made that an impossibility, I do like to think that he inspired me to carry with me a more worldly perspective – one that looked beyond one’s own house, town, state, country or ethnicity.
My Grandma Wilson was, for so long, the glue that held the Wilson Clan together. She was glamorous, elegant and sophisticated and always brought a touch of class to every occasion, but I think it was her athleticism I was lucky enough to inherit. Living in South Florida, she would start every day with 50 laps in the pool. That dedication to health and fitness still guide me today.
My Grandpa Wilson was the last of my grandparents to leave us. A somewhat fiery man in his youth, he had mellowed quite a bit by the time I got to know him. I remember him falling asleep in front of the TV, telling his off color jokes and making the best hamburgers you will ever taste (I’d like to think my hamburgers are pretty close facsimiles). Of the four grandparents, it’s Grandpa Wilson’s voice that I can still distinctly hear. Not only can I close my eyes and hear his voice, I hear it when I tell really dumb dad jokes to Katie (to which she rolls her eyes). Every time I hear or use a pun I can’t help but think of him (one of his favorites: “What’s two-thirds of a pun? P-U!” cue the groans).
On January 7th, 1998, I thought I had been left grandparent-less; that I was now the second, not third generation of my family. At that point, I had been dating Jess for a year. We would get engaged the following September and wed in June of 1999.
Even before our wedding, I can’t tell you exactly when, I knew I had gained a new lease on being a grandchild. Jess’ grandma June, better known to all of us as Oomah, embraced me as one of her own almost immediately. The first time I met her, was in Tampa Bay, Florida. Jess and I had flown down to escape the cold weather of New York City. At the time she lived in a community that had a pool that Jess and I spent almost all of our time at. On that first night I was introduced to Oomah’s Cucumber Salad. Upon my first bite, I looked up and insisted that she give me the recipe. She simply smiled and said, “we’ll see.”
She needed to make sure this young man her granddaughter had brought to visit was worthy. On the last day of our visit, she gave me the recipe. It is, by far, one of my favorite dishes of all time.
She would eventually move north to live with her daughter in Western MA, for which I am very grateful. It meant that not only would Katie and Brooke get a real chance to know their great-grandmother, but that I too would get to spend some regular quality time with my grandma. Over the last 17 or so years, through countless occasions, we would always find time to sit, just the two of us, and talk.
We would often talk about the kids, or Jess, or my job or Jess’ job, but I always savored the moments when she would talk about her own personal history. Oomah was a fighter, a pioneer. She did not lead a typical life. As a young woman, at a time when such actions were unheard of, she left a bad marriage, taking her kids with her. She had a quiet strength, but your knew that if she needed to, she could bring a storm down upon you. She also had a wonderful self-deprecating sense of humor. Oomah’s singing voice, well, let’s just say it left something to be desired, but she knew that. She would say that when she sang to the babies, they would fall asleep as a method of self-defense. She passed that strength, sense of humor and individualism on to both of her children, who then passed them on to their own kids. Each of Oomah’s four grandchildren are unique, strong, funny individuals, all of whom I admire very much.
I would like to believe that not only through my hours of conversation with Oomah, but also through the relationship I have with my father-in-law, Jess and her three cousins, that I too carry a bit of Oomah with me on a daily basis. I hope I can emulate her strength and humor throughout the rest of the time I have on this planet.
Oomah passed away Monday night/Tuesday morning, almost 17 years to the day I lost my Grandpa Wilson. Even though her health had been in decline and we had prepared ourselves for this, it still hurts. The finality of when our loved ones pass through that doorway is heavy. I take solace in knowing that some of Oomah’s spirit lives on here in this plane of existence, through her two children and their spouses, four grandchildren and their spouses, eight great-grandchildren, and I am sure many, countless others who were touched by her gentle strength and grace, and hopefully through me.
I already miss youOomah. Thank you for seeing me, accepting me, and loving me as a grandson. I am forever grateful.
Oomah on our wedding day – 1999
Thanksgiving with Oomah and the girls – 2013