After ninety years of life my grandfather passed away last week.
This was no great surprise for my family. He had been suffering diminished capacity in only a way that Parkinson's can tear your heart out and stomp on it. We were well familiar with this experience having seen my maternal grandfather go through a similar prolonged experience (eight + years) with Huntington's. While there are many similarities between there last few years and the lengthened list of what they could not do and what they needed increasing assistance with, they were two very different men.
Pop was cantankerous. He was a perfectionist - the no nonsense patriarch of the Walsh family. The youngest of eight, he grew up poor. I once saw his house (galvanised iron, one-room shack is a better word) before it got torn down and I don't think I've thought of poverty the same way since. But he was brilliant. He constantly performed at an academic level that was unexpected for him. Despite this, his career was relatively low key. He was a storeman, then soldier, then fruit grower, father and grandfather. He was a sportman with an exacting eye - cricket, football, water-skiing or table tennis - he always achieved great things. He even coached well having instructed many of the state, national and world champion level water skiiers in the 50-70s.
The weird thing is that I didn't learn most of these things until my father's eulogy.
Pop didn't like talking about the past. Being poor, being lonely (his seven siblings were all significantly older than him), the disappointment of serving in Australia while his friends and brothers fought overseas during WW2 - they all dogged at him. I didn't even know he had been in the ambulance infantry until yesterday. Being the history buff that I am, I had asked him in the last few years and he still couldn't talk about how angry he was that he wasn't able to actively serve his country.
He would also enquire if my pencil grip had improved yet. (It hasn't, after twenty-six years you think he would have accepted failure.)
My grandfather was known for his snowy hair. White. Most grandfathers have white hair but Pop went white very early on and battened down his locks with vaseline. I never saw his hair without it. Ever. I learned yesterday that my curly hair most probably was inherited from him. I guess this answers my question of how I might be able to tame it. Though combing vaseline through my hair doesn't sound all that attractive. My nana made a comment about washing the pillow slips yesterday and not once had I thought about the mess that would have made.
It's a weird experience saying goodbye to someone while also getting to know them better.
I met many relatives from that side of the family for the first time and my need to know more about my family suddenly grew legs. Elderly members of the Walsh family, excited that I was curious and wanting to learn more will be sending information on their family trees. There hope is that I might be able to push further, as the youngest generation of our family, and relay it back to them.
If I take anything of yesterday, it will be that knowledge will be gained, memories held tight and new bonds forged.
Not that bad for a sad day.