I went to Arizona over Thanksgiving to see my step-dad. If you read my last post, you know he had bone cancer. Yeah. I said had. He passed away the morning after I arrived in Arizona. Unfortunately, I did not get to say goodbye, because I had stopped overnight in Phoenix and had not yet made the 3 hour trip to the mountain top where he and mom lived.
When I received the call I was both grateful and devastated. He was in so much pain, the life he was living as a cancer victim was horrible and hard and humiliating to him. How could I not want him to be free from that situation? At the same time, I was sad. I didn't get to tell him how much I appreciated him. Or how much I loved his ridiculously funny stories. Or how grateful I was that he gave us a safe place to live and gave me employment when I needed it. Or how his love of all things John Wayne has become my love of all things John Wayne. There are all these unsaid things just hanging out there. I hate leaving things unsaid.
My step-father was a lover of really cool muscle cars. I wish I would have shown more of an interest for them when he was collecting them and fixing them up. At different times in his life he bought and restored a GTO, an old Chevy something that looked kind of like the original Batmobile that he called the Ghetto Sled (because of where he bought it), an old Buick Riviera with that weird back window, and several others that I don't recall the makes and models. But they were all cool. But part of the reason that they were cool was because he was cool. He didn't have to try to be cool, he just was. Kind of like the cowboy version of The Fonz.
He was one of those guys that knew what the trends would be 6 months before anyone else did. He came home with black Reeboks one day and we all laughed about how weird they were. Six months later EVERYONE was wearing them!
John was one of the original "preppers" and a MacGyver kind of guy that would make MacGyver jealous! He could figure out how to make just about anything out of stuff he found laying around.
He loved food and music and guns, all equally. He got me hooked on these:
And he taught me how to use these:
And he made me download hundreds of these to his Ipod:
He was a master story teller who had many, many stories to tell about traveling with his dad, who rode and trained race horses. He talked about the things he would do as an 8 year old kid wandering around the fair while his dad was busy. Watching the monkeys dressed like jockeys riding greyhounds was high on his list of favorites. He talked about how his mom would take him to church and give him money for the bus ride home and he would wait for her to drive off, then go to the ice cream shop and buy a cone with the bus money and walk home. His mom could never figure out why his suit was so dusty all of the time. His stories about fighting and drag racing and his overnight stint in jail when his dad got mad enough not to bail him out were hilarious and filled with real life details that no one could make up. I'm sad that we didn't take the time to record him telling those stories.
John had a wickedly, sarcastic sense of humor. He was the kind of person who could totally slam you and it was so funny and accurate that event though the joke was on you? You had to laugh! When he was in a good mood, there was not a funnier, more fun guy to be around. His grin and his laugh were so indicative of who he really was when he was happy. His laugh was not a laugh that fit a man of his character, reputation or build. He was a big, tough guy. His laugh was not at all tough. When he really got going, his laugh got very high pitched and when you heard him laugh that hard, you had to laugh too!
He had nicknames for everyone. Hammerhead, Numbnuts and Honyock were among his favorites. My boys were never Tanner and Eli when they were with him. The were Big One and Little One. My sister was Bird when she was a kid, because she was all knees and elbows. He called me Thumper for a while when I wore my Nike Canvas or Converse sneakers because he said my big feet looked like rabbit feet. They did look like rabbit feet when I wore the shoes with what is now called skinny jeans.
John loved Old Westerns and John Wayne and Gene Autry. He would watch reruns of Gunsmoke and Bonanza for hours. I'm pretty sure he has watched every single John Wayne movie ever made. Watch the movie "The Cowboys" sometime. John Wayne in that movie? That was my step-dad. His humor, his tough exterior, his truly soft heart, his work ethic, his intolerance of bullies...all my step-dad.
There were downsides to living with John, to be sure. He hated holidays. He would get grumpy and hide in his room all day. We kind of laughed this year during Thanksgiving dinner that his grumpiness had become part of the tradition. Because of his upbringing, he didn't let a lot of people get close to him. Not even us. He put up a lot of walls and it's too bad that he waited so long to let the the walls start to come down. He missed out on a lot of great relationships with his family and friends. And we missed out too.
|Last visit with Grandpa John in June 2013|
I'm sad cancer took him just when he was figuring out that family was important and that he needed to spend more time getting to know his grand kids. He had a lot of hard-earned advice and wisdom to share with them. He had so many stories to make them giggle and laugh. He had so many skills that he could have passed on to them. And they would have loved almost every minute of their time with him.
There is so much more I could write, but it wouldn't sum up who he was. And nothing I could write right now could ever convey my appreciation for him, as a step-father or as a person. So I will just finish by saying this: John, thanks for giving me a safe place to live, for teaching me how to change a tire and defend myself and for hiring me back every time you fired me for speaking my mind. I hope where you are now that you get to meet and talk with John Wayne. I bet you'll be good friends.
And this, which only a few of you will get: That whole thing about you going to hell with a bad back? We win.