Baba (Bah-bah) died on July 7, 2006 from a stroke. He was 85 years old and had been struggling with leukemia for a year and a half when he passed; my mom was alone with him in the room but he hadn't been conscious for a number of days before that. I was still in England at that point and because it was July, it was the most expensive time of the year to fly and I couldn't afford to come home for his funeral.
Being raised in a military family has a lot of benefits and a lot of setbacks. One of the negatives is that you can't see your extended family that often. I think I saw my grandparents two or three times a year but every time I saw Baba, it was good times. I won't go into my thoughts on Mama, my grandma, but let's just say that the highlight was seeing Baba. He was always a big guy with big hands (his dad emigrated from Wales when he was 19 and his mother was also full-blooded Welsh, but she was born and raised in the States) and was a farmer. He had a great smile and soft curly grey hair. He always treated my brother, my sister, and I very nicely and I loved being around him and getting hugs from him because he was so big.
When we would visit them in Illinois, they had a large finished basement. The thing about the the basement though was that it had no windows, the lighting wasn't adequate, and it was wood paneled, so it was pretty dark and scary for us as kids (and even as adults!). He would always tease us that lions lived down there so we had to be careful when we went down there, my sister and I were terrified and didn't like being down there for long. In the basement, Baba had a full-sized pool table that we could only play when he was down there, so that's how I learned to play pool...Baba taught me.
Things I'll always remember about Baba:
- His smell.
- His big blue cardigans that he always wore.
- The fact that he loved Old Fashioned Creme Drop candies.
- He loved putting popcorn in his milk.
- He always wore big belt buckles all of the time.
- He used to go to Casey's General Store (a gas station chain in the Midwest) to get coffee and a paper every morning.
- His smile and his laugh.
- He always wore copper bracelets.
- He taught me how to play "chicken scratch" with dominoes and we loved playing "Uno".
- He loved living in Tucson for half the year and loved playing golf.
- Before leukemia, he was completely healthy and was on no medication. He still drove from Tucson to Illinois twice a year (no small feat for anyone).
When I found out he passed away, I knew my mom would be devastated; and she was. My mom was very close to her dad and really couldn't wait for him to live next door to her in Texas so that they could have coffee every morning together. He passed away before that happened. I always tell my mom that Baba knew that she could handle his passing and that's why he chose to die when only she in the room.
A week after he passed, my grandma paid for me to fly to Illinois to help her take care of things before she was moved down to Texas. Because my parents still lived in Missouri and my uncles in Dallas, no one could take the time off to stay with her. Walking into their house for the first time really hit me harder than I expected. I was just waiting for him to come out of the living room, grab my shoulder, shake it really hard, and say, "How are you doing, kid?" while gritting his teeth.
I got to see his final resting place at this tiny Welsh cemetery in rural Illinois where a lot of my relatives are buried and just seeing that mound of dirt was like, indescribable. Everyone says how handsome he looked in his casket but I still regret not being there..especially for my mom. I wish I would have had a chance to say goodbye to him, but everyone in the family understood why I couldn't be there. One night in England shortly after he passed, I was in bed writing my thoughts about Baba in a book and the lamp next to me started flickering for about 15 seconds and then stopped, it had never done that before or since, but I think that was Baba's way of telling me that it was okay.
Anyway, having that dream last night was really special. He was just really happy, that's what I remember the most. He was always happy and I'm lucky that I had him for my grandpa. I wish that he were here right now, especially since I'm in Tucson; I think it would have been really cool to have Baba here and go to his place and play cards or out to dinner together, I think that would have been really special.