I don’t really know how common this is or not. It is not one of those things that naturally pops up in conversation with friends. But I was a lucky little kid because, for a while, I had my great-grandfather in my life.
His name was Harry Keller. He was my grandmother’s father. And I remember him. He died when I was about 5-years-old. But for a time while I was young, he and I lived in the same house. We were around each other every day.
He was always good natured. I remember a lot of hugs and a lot of butterscotch candy that he would slip me when no one was looking. It was good. I think it is why I still like them to this day. I remember doing silly dances for him to make him laugh. I remember a lot of Summer afternoons in the backyard, looking at rose bushes that he attended to. I remember drinking lemonade with him at the kitchen table when it was hot outside.
He was such a dear man. Such a sweet man. The story that I don’t think I will ever forget was the afternoon he and I were in the backyard. I had an oversized set of golf clubs and I hit the big plastic ball that came with them over the backyard fence. He hoisted me over the fence so I could get the ball, but half-way through the hoist I ended up getting stuck on the fence and he couldn’t get me off. He had to run inside for help and I remember thinking “Where are you going? I am stuck on a fence!”
I remember the winter’s day where a storm had moved in. It was snowing a lot. And he decided he was going to walk one block to the grocery store. I told him I wanted to go with him and he said no, that he would be right back. I remember standing at the kitchen window, tears streaming down my face as he walked into the snow. I did not want him to go alone and didn’t understand how anyone else thought it was OK for a nearly 80-year-old man to walk into a winter storm alone.
Eventually, he got sick. Really sick. It was Cancer. I didn’t understand that then. What I remember of the time is going to an old brick building on the campus of Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines and showing him my new Star Wars figures. I explained who each character was and if they were a good guy or a bad guy. He sat there and indulged me, smiling and making comments where he could.
When Grandpa Keller died, my life changed. His was the first death I ever had to deal with. I was shielded from it. I did not go to the visitation or the funeral. My family was worried that it would lead to nightmares. They wanted me to remember him with the memories I had of his life..and not memories of how he appeared in death.
He was a kind, patient and loving. He was gentle and tender. He was hard working. In short, he was everything a man should strive to be. My Grandmother always said he was the perfect father; something I am sure my Aunt Penny would agree with. As as for a great-grandfather, he was so sweet. His hugs were full of emotion and they provided the exact type of emotional security blanket that every child should have and deserve.
It would not be until years later that I learned that Grandpa Keller was an amateur writer. In his later years, he wrote poetry and short stories. He even gave his hand to drawing and captioning cartoons. All for his pleasure and ultimately the pleasure of his family. I began writing short stories on an old 1932 Royal typewriter when I was about 8-years-old. I had no idea Grandpa Keller and I shared a love of the written word until years later. And when I did learn of that connection, it really meant something to me.
Harry Keller was an amazing man. The only regret I have involving him is that he and I did not get to have more time together.