This is Grandpa, standing proud as General Truscott pinned the Bronze Star to his uniform in February of 1945. Grandpa fought in Italy – drove reconnaissance missions on the beachhead at Anzio – but for all my attempts to hear about his time there, he only ever shared the same three stories: the time he took the Jeep without permission and visited Rome, the time an enemy fired at him while he was scouting in that same Jeep (“I think he was bored,” Grandpa told me, shrugging the encounter away like it was nothing), and the way the men in his company would share their food with the starving Italians outside the Allied Forces’ encampment.
We asked him once why he was awarded the Bronze Star. His response? “There were lots of men on that beach, but they had to give a medal to someone, so they just decided to give it to me.”
This is Grandpa, hard-working, dedicated, loving. A man whose legacy will long outlive him, though that word has been used so often that it does not do him justice. Upon his retirement from the school district, they named an education center after him (and that only because he insisted he wanted no such thing as an Edward A. Greer school).
This is Grandpa, a lover of books and of puzzles, with a newspaper always close at hand. For years, it was the crossword that held his attention, his spidery hand filling each square with pen as though the possibility of a mistake never crossed his mind. Later, after watching my sister work her way through a puzzle book and asking her what trouble she was brewing, he switched to Sudoku.
Grandpa had a keen mind: it was dangerous to sit down to play a game of cards with him, and even more dangerous to attempt Boggle. I have many, many memories of various versions of rummy or trick-taking card games played around Grandma and Grandpa’s kitchen table, but was never quite bold enough to challenge him in a game of words.
This is Grandpa. He insisted on washing dishes, on paying for anything and everything that needed paying for, on showing his love for us in these very tangible ways. He and mom used to fight over who would clean the kitchen after a meal. He’d glare, Grandpa would, a hint of a crotchety old man surfacing that rarely showed itself otherwise. “Becky, this is my house. I’m going to wash these dishes, young lady, do you understand me? Don’t be ornery.”
This is Grandpa, a man of few words, really, unless he was speaking about his faith or his family. Phone conversations would last a minute, tops, and then you’d be speaking to Grandma again, chuckling a bit to yourself about the brevity of the exchange. And yet, though he used few of them, the words he did say meant something. His way of drawing me in for a hug at the end of a visit, his voice pitched low so that I alone could hear his quiet, “I’m proud of you, kid,” spoke more to me than volumes of words from somebody else.
This is Grandpa, a man of faith who could be found in the church pew every Sunday, who was a loyal member of the same congregation for fifty some-odd years. Until his health made such things impossible, he was committed to leading bible studies at the local correctional facilities, rarely (if ever) missing a week. I asked him about it once – “Tell me about your prison ministry, Grandpa” – and that simple request led to one of the longest discussions we ever had. He told me about the men and women he’d met, about the scriptures he used, about the ways the prisoners responded to his words, and an image came to me, one that made me fiercely proud: my ninety year-old grandfather talking to convicted criminals about Jesus.
This is Grandpa. Oh, how he loved his family, his wife and his kids and his grandkids and his great-grandkids. At family gatherings, he would sit quietly, enjoying the chaos brought on by a plethora of descendants, unless he had something specific to say. When that happened, we all knew to sit up and listen. There was the time we gathered as a family in Yellowstone and he demanded our attention one night to exhort those who didn’t believe in Christ to consider again their faith. Or, at the end of his 90th birthday party, after the games and the gifts and the cake, when he shushed us, telling us, with tears in his eyes, how much we all meant to him, how grateful he was that Grandma had stayed by his side all these years, how desperately he hoped each of us would come to faith in Jesus – the most important thing in his own life.
This is Grandpa, a dedicated husband, who loved his wife until the end. In the last days of Grandma’s life, when we asked him his secret for a long marriage, he spoke of a heart connection, of truly being one with your spouse. In so many ways, he was cut adrift when she died: she was his partner, his friend, his love. Though they had their moments of conflict, there was never any doubt in my mind that Grandpa loved Grandma with everything in him.
This is Grandpa, my Grandpa. My ally. My friend. He was a hug and a smile at the end of a long day of driving. A gentle hand on my back. An encouraging voice in my ear. Seven years ago, on his ninetieth birthday, I wrote him a letter in which I told him that I wanted to be like him when I grew up. The same is true today.
You lived a long life, Grandpa. A good life. I am grateful beyond words that I got to be your granddaughter.
I love you, always and forever.
In loving memory of Edward A. Greer
August 6, 1919 – May 19, 2016