Memories of My Grandpa. The Words of a Spoiled Grandson


I have mostly abandoned this blog of late.  With Macs around the corner maybe I will add some posts, but today lead me back here to treat it like a diary.  This morning my phone rang, when I saw the name at 6 AM, I knew what words I would hear on the call.

I had spent Tuesday in Lethbridge, Alberta bedside at a hospital with my Grandpa.  We knew he would pass soon and Tuesday was maybe my last chance to sit beside him and tell him I love him.  I am glad I made the trip on his last day.  I had been selfish on the weekend, and while everyone else took the 2 hour drive south for a family Christmas at my Uncle’s house and to see my grandparents, I chose to stay in Calgary to work.  On Sunday we found out my Grandpa had Pneumonia and as he had been suffering with pain it was decided by his children and him that they would not attempt to treat the disease but make him comfortable.

This is not going to be a post of regrets however.  I would love to tell you if I could go back I would change and have spent more time with this wonderful man and taken less for granted.  But to be honest I think that would be the words of guilt and the sadness of loss.  We all let life get in the way and we all take the ones we love for granted, so I am going to be honest and say I don’t know I would change if I did go back but I will spend this post talking about how wonderful my life was because of him and my Grandma.  Because they were simply the best.

Grandma is still around.  She resides in the Coaldale hospital and has Alzheimer’s, in fact has for a decade and is at a very advanced stage.  My Grandma had this wonderful and beautiful smile when we were growing up and always seemed happy when we were around.  I am pretty sure that while she was raising 5 kids she was also raising Grandpa.  She rarely got visibly upset, almost never swore and worked tirelessly to make our lives as grandkids awesome.  But don’t be fooled she could hold her own when needed, especially when it came to family.   I feel a little bad about not visiting her more.  She rarely opens her eyes, doesn’t talk or really move anymore.  She hasn’t recognized me for a very long time.  I watch my Mom when we visit Grandma, she has such hope that Grandma will open her eyes and give her some acknowledgement.  And it is wonderful when her eyes open.  It breaks my heart to see my Mom hurt while watching her Mom.  I worry my Mom thinks I don’t visit because I am not appreciative of Grandma or am callous, but that isn’t the case.  My Grandma spoiled me at every turn, her house is the happiest place I was ever in, including disney.  I remember eating mounds of her crepes, at the time they seemed endless but the truth is Grandma was slaving away to put a smile on our face.  I remember eating peas out of her garden while we washed the batch.  I can’t remember a single time that Grandma didn’t make me smile for all those years growing up.  The worst part is, what was truly amazing is she always do it modestly and quietly, she just made the world a better place for us and never once expected the recognition she deserves.  The thing is I cling to those memories because they are precious and mean the world to me.  I don’t ever want to lose the memories of how she was then, her smile, and her voice.  When we visit her now I am struck with sadness and the hopelessness of not being able to have that time back or help her.  I worry that I will diminish all the beautiful memories if I get too emotional when we visit now, and those memories are too important to lose.  I remember the first time I realized she had no idea who I was.  She was over visiting at my parents.  I gave her a hug and told her I loved her but she was scared and looked at me blankly, I realized I was a stranger to her.  I remember going for a drive later so I could cry.  But she gave me so many great memories, so in between the tears I sat replayed those moments to bring back a smile.

With Grandpa passing this morning, I was reminded how important my grandparents were and felt the need to share my feelings.  Not coherent or organized thoughts, and probably not all that readable but cathartic thoughts for me.  Grandpa was a real jokester kind of guy in the way only a guy with a terrible catalogue of jokes could be.  Awkwardly laughing at the jokes he told was everyones most known experience with him.  Just taking him to dinner always meant some very awkward exchanges with the wait staff, his humour more confusing to them than anything.  But really that was the charm of it.  Grandpa and Grandma came as a package in our lives, the two teaming up to spoil us and make sure we felt loved at every turn.  As it is Christmas that seems a good place to start.  Grandma and Grandpa weren’t wealthy but they sure made sure their grandkids got the best toys at Christmas.  I think my Cousins, Josh and Corey, have the same memory I have of a particular Christmas day when we were pretty young.  Christmas was the same all the time.  Christmas eve over to their house to drop off food for the family pot luck style dinner, dressed up of course.  From there, off to church for service.  Usually with most of our clan in the appropriate seating but the Boulanger portion up with the choir (let that be a lesson don’t be late).  Back to Grandma and Grandpa’s where we ate, and then had to sing Christmas carols at the top of our lungs to bring down a Santa Clause who always had the same paint stains on his hands as Grandpa.  Weird Santa’s hobby and Grandpa’s job lined up.  After an exciting (and loud evening) everyone went home to await Christmas morning.  When we were done at home Christmas morning it was back to Grandma and Grandpa’s for Christmas dinner, but for the kids it was also for Grandma and Grandpa’s big gift to us.  This one particular Christmas as we walked down the into the basement, we saw 2 brand new, state of the art, Nintendo Entertainment Systems.   One for our home and one for my cousins home.  That thing would have been a hot ticket item and cost them a large fortune at the time.  The thing is every year had an amazing highly wanted gift and I have heard many a time of Grandpa up all night building Thundercats Lairs for us (in triplicate of course).  I remember being sad as the family grew beyond the original four grandkids and our gift one year was a large sum of money from Grandma and Grandpa.  I know every kid should be excited but that was the day I realized I had entered a new zone in the family.  Really I just wanted to continue to be their spoiled little brat.

Grandpa was around us a ton, I remember Grandpa coming to my baseball games when I was little, I remember calling my shot at the plate to impress him.  I am pretty sure that play ended in a routine grounder.  I remember him at a lot of my hockey games and when I played one of my cousins I remember playing extra hard so Grandpa would see me extra!  I was selfish like that.  I remember grandpa staying up one night when I was really little, my parents stranded with a broken car in Lethbridge, and listening to Alvin and The Chipmunks cassette while I cried for my parents.  I remember him playing hours of Mario Brothers on the Nintendo with me and him setting DX Ball records on his computer.  The year my friend wrecked his sports car and Grandpa pulling all the interior door panels off to save my friend money at the body shop.  And while he worked on anything a cigarette dangling from his mouth, the ash so long it was defying physics by still being attached.  I remember as an adult Grandpa, having quit smoking, coming over to stand by me and my uncles and Dad while we had a smoke so he could enjoy the smell of second hand smoke.  I remember being permitted to hang out with the men for pool nights and watching Grandpa wax the floor with all comers.  I think he spent a lot of time perfecting his game in his basement.

One of my special memories is a little more something I think I experienced the most.  My Grandpa had spent a lot of time around the race tracks and Sprint Cars (dirt track racing with small open wheeled cars covered by a wing on top).  My Dad also enjoyed this brand of racing and we would load up with Grandpa to go to Lethbridge and Bridge City raceway to watch the Sprint Car races.  Late into a Saturday night we would watch the races then pile into the car and back home.  I remember always falling asleep and waking just as we pulled back into Calgary, an exciting day having left me exhausted.  It is a special memory because it seems so personal, just the 4 of us (Uncle Dave came as well from Coaldale) at the track.  Sprint cars aren’t a huge draw here and the Bridge City Raceway had some financial difficulty and ran intermittently as time went by.  However to this day I still love the sprint cars.  A while back a coworkers brother was racing the cars and I helped at a few races, including the Gold Cup in Edmonton, a two day event with some really cool stories.   One of the work suppliers gave me two tickets (paddock pass included) to the inaugural Edmonton Indy when it was a CART race.  I took Grandpa for the weekend to watch the races.  We spent the days watching a new type of racing together and I had to fight him over who paid for dinner at night.  It was a wonderful weekend.  A few years later the World of Outlaws sprint cars (Higher level and faster Sprints than we had in Alberta before) came to Edmonton.  I saw an opportunity to have one last sprint car weekend with my Dad and Grandpa so I grabbed the tickets and we headed out to Nisku for a couple more days of racing.  I enjoyed every minute of being with them at the track.  I know grandpa was worried about leaving Grandma for a few days, it was early in her Alzheimer’s diagnosis and he was worrying about her a lot I would guess.  The races ran late the second day because of poor weather but I was glad we got to see the end of the race and spend that one last trip with him at the track.  This past may Tiana and I were in Charlotte during a NASCAR weekend and the World of Outlaws were in town.  Tiana was sick but we went to the Friday night race together, it was really special that she did that, I loved being at the track again and it reminded me of all those trips to Lethbridge with Grandpa.  Maybe it didn’t seem like a big deal when we were going at the time, but those trips left me with a life long passion for a sport but I think the passion is because it gave me a special connection to a very special man.

I am sure some people would tell me he wasn’t perfect but I don’t care to listen.  John Rempel changed my life by being the best grandfather a person could ever ask for.  He valued family and never was short on love for us grandkids.  I can’t imagine my life without his impact, he will be dearly missed by I am sure I will find myself at the track this summer with a tear in my eye while I remember all those trips with him.  But it will be a happy memory, one I will never want to lose.

Thanks for everything Grandpa, I love you!


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