And all the way around

By Karyn Spory,

Mt. Pleasant News


An inch of air, it?s what it looked like he was measuring. But without even saying a word, we knew what he meant ? he loves us that much.

I don?t have a memory of my Grandpa Pete without him making this gesture. Each time we?d see him, this six-foot-six-inch man would scoop down and envelop us in a giant, warm hug, only letting go to pinch the air between us. ?This much,? he?d say.

Being the youngest grandchild, that inch of air was never quite enough. I?d always stretch up on my tiptoes and with my index finger, circle from his thumb back around to his pointer finger. ?And all the way around,? I?d say.

If I?m honest, I have always been jealous of my siblings ? David and Jenny ? and our two cousins ? Stacy and Eric ? and their relationship with our grandparents. I needed that extra bit of love to make up for all of the extra time they had with them. Besides being 10 to 15 years older than me, my siblings and cousins all lived with our grandparents at one time or another. And when they weren?t, there was the weeklong vacation they?d spend at their home in Illinois. Burnside Church always held a summer Vacation Bible School so for one week a summer, my grandparents had four rascals under their roof. Most of their stories seem to stem from these weeklong stays.

They weren?t just staying at Gram and Grandpa?s they were out having adventures or learning life lessons from them. David will often recall Grandpa teaching him how to read. His voice was so soothing that it?d put David right to sleep. And the girls learned how to drive from Grandpa.

?Grandma refused to ride with us so we?d take two cars to church,? Jenny recalls. ?Stacy would drive in the mornings and me in the afternoon. We were always early for church and I?d get us home late for dinner.?

It?s these stories that filled the spaces between tears last night as we all gathered at the hospital with Grandpa.

With both of my grandparents, you always knew where you stood. Gram did not mince words. When she was upset, you knew. When you did something right, you?d get a quick nod of approval. Grandpa was different. While Gram didn?t express her emotions, Grandpa was a bundle of them ? a very large bundle. He was the first to tell you he loved you, or how proud he was of you. He doted on us with compliments and affection and was the constant encourager. But he didn?t just say that he loved you, he showed you. He was a hugger. And he hugged everyone, didn?t matter how long or how well he knew you. The first time my sister introduced her husband to Grandpa, he hugged him. No handshake or hello, just a large hug. There may have been a small chase before Grandpa got ahold of him, but 16 years later my brother-in-law won?t leave without a hug from Grandpa Pete.

A few nights ago I was on the phone with a close friend. As always he asked how Grandpa was doing. ?Not great,? I admitted. I told him Grandpa had had pneumonia for almost a month and we couldn?t understand why the treatment wasn?t working. ?You know, he?s one of the kindest and most welcoming men I?ve ever met,? my friend told me. And with a little prodding, he admitted he was one of the best huggers, too. Ask anyone who has met my grandpa and I think they?d have a similar character description. The only addition would be adding he?s also one of the orneriest. I think he?d give Ron Clouse a run for his money.

Thursday we finally understood why the pneumonia wasn?t clearing up, Grandpa had an aggressive form of lung cancer.

Last night, as the family surrounded his bed, sharing stories and singing silly songs together, Grandpa decided he would not begin treatment for his cancer. At some point, in the next few days, he will remove the oxygen mask that is keeping him alive and he will go see his Ruthie again and meet his Savior.

As hard as I know the next few days and weeks will be, the only thing I can feel right now is blessed. I feel blessed to have been born into this family whose cornerstone was a woman who was surly, sassy and fierce, and the center of it was a giant with a heart just as big.

Last night, when I left the hospital, I thanked Grandpa for his love, laughter and guidance. ?This much,? he said. Except instead of pinching an inch of air, he spread his arms out wide. I?ll tell you what, ?all the way around? doesn?t begin to cover how much I love him.