Today is the 25th anniversary of a day that changed my life forever. I remember being at home in my bedroom, working on a birthday present for my grandfather. His birthday was the very next day–June 20th. Aside from my Dad, he was the most important man in my life. He was up north at the family cabin in Prudenville, Michigan. I was working hard on a picture that I would give to him when he returned.
At the time, I shared a bedroom with my sister who was listening to Elvis on the radio and I remember getting upset with her about something. I went to tell my Mom when the phone rang. It was my Aunt Sue. My Mom listened then she sat down on her bed and started to cry. My sister came into the room and sat down on the bed next to my Mom. It was obvious that something was wrong. My sister started to cry. She thought my Aunt was calling to tell us that our Grandmother had passed away. She had cancer and we all knew it was a matter of time before we would lose her.
I don’t remember exactly what was said but I do remember my mother being in shock and asking something like “how is Mom taking it?” So it wasn’t Grandma, then who was it?
No one ever expected my Grandfather to go first. He seemed way too stubborn. I was only nine and I thought he was invincible. So I didn’t understand it when my Mom tried to explain to us that he was gone. He was up at the cabin, working on the roof of the porch that he was putting on the cabin when he had a heart attack. My cousin and uncle were there. They called an ambulance but the nearest hospital was in West Branch, a good half an hour to 45 minutes away. Actually, my father was born in that hospital. And now I will always remember it as the place where the most important man in my life entered this world and where the other left this world.
I still remember being at the funeral home, seeing my Grandfather in his casket. I wore this blue and black dress that he bought me and I placed his birthday picture inside of the casket so he could take it with him. I remember the look on my grandmother’s face as she sat in her wheelchair staring at the love of her life. She would be joining him in exactly 11 months (to the day). I remember my Aunt Nancy hugging me and letting me cry in her arms. She too would be following my grandparents into the afterlife in a few short years.
Our lives and our family have changed so much over the last 25 years. My grandfather was always in the back of my mind. I would wonder what he thought about the choices I had made and if he was proud of me. And when I joined the Ladies Auxiliary at his VFW Post, I felt that he was. I actually felt him watching on the day of my induction. And it helped that some of the ladies who knew my grandparents were by my side. My grandfather was the post master and I spent a good chunk of my childhood playing in that VFW hall. My sister thinks it’s funny that I still won’t go in the kitchen. We were never allowed in there as kids and I still think he is going to yell at me if I go in there now. I still take the back entrance through the broom closet then through the bar then into the back of the kitchen. And I always look at his picture on the wall every time I step into the hall. That was his home away from home.
It still breaks my heart to think of all the years we didn’t get to spend with him and how many of my younger cousins don’t remember him or never even knew him. Like my father, I am doing my best to keep his legacy alive through my work with the military and the veterans–and through General Motors (he was an Engineer for GM and worked on the Mako Shark). He passed on his strength, beliefs and stubborness to my father who passed it on to me. I hope I have made him proud.
I still love and miss you. I will do my best to continue to honor you.
RIP Sylvester James Brinker (Aka Bob) 1925-1987