My daughter wrote this story about her grandfather, my dad, on her blog www.traumamom4.com yesterday. I encourage you to check out this great blog of hers. Meanwhile, I am running this beautiful story for my blog today. Enjoy Pop’s story…
“Here’s $20. Go buy a pitcher of good beer. You deserve it,” he winked as he slipped the crinkled bill into my now husband’s hand. We were two young kids at my cousin’s wedding, standing near the cash bar. We’d just started dating. And he could see the love in our eyes. I was his grandbaby. A tender 20 years old. And he saw the man at my side, who’d really only been there a matter of months, and he’d decided he was already family. Grandpa Jung had a heart a magnitude of order larger than his wallet. If you were in his world, in his sights, you were his family. And he would be sure that you knew it.
Grandpa, or as my dad called (calls) him, “Pop”, in so many ways, is my true north for how I aspire to treat other people. My mother tells a story of meeting Pop for the first time as she found herself sleeping in the family home (in the guest room, of course) early during the time my mother and father were dating. Pop’s response was not one of judgment, but of welcoming her to the family. A hug. A jovial smile. “If she’s good enough for our, Johnny, then she’s family,” I can imagine him saying.
When I was a kid, one of his 11 grandchildren, there was no doubt that he loved us. Grandma and Grandpa lived in Cincinnati, in the home where my father and his siblings grew up. We visited often from our home in a small town about 90 miles away. He greeted us in his button-down shirt and his pants pulled way too high over his round belly. He smelled of Brylcreem and the Goetta that he’d made that morning. He laughed as he hugged us when we walked in the door, the TV on in the background, without fail the Cincinnati Reds playing, or during the off-season, “WKRP in Cincinnati”. He sat in his modest swivel chair and I remember laying at his feet, watching TV with him. If the Reds weren’t playing, we’d play cards…he taught me to love the game of Euchre. But the Reds were life. The players. The history of the game. The bond baseball gave to generations of Jung kids.
Over the years, his hearing declined. Or now that I reflect on it, maybe his hearing just matured in his old age to hear only the things he wanted to hear…the things that made him happy. Maybe he just somehow found a way to not hear the things of this world that made him sad, or upset. He chose, instead, to listen to joy. He’d remain clueless about the content of a conversation until someone mentioned the family or a party. Then all of the sudden, he was keenly aware of every detail.
When they moved into the retirement home, he sat next to an old friend at dinner (or maybe it was a new friend; one could never tell; if he welcomed you in, you were automatically his lifelong friend) who he boldly, and unapologetically, introduced as “Joe, the old alcoholic.” Joe never corrected him. Pop said what he wanted, what he knew. And being the old alcoholic had nothing to do with Pop loving you. It was just a fact. A benign descriptor. No judgment. Just, “Hey, this is Joe. Just so you know, don’t offer him a beer. That’s not in his story right now.”
Sometimes, as I am talking with a colleague, or a friend, or a patient’s family, I can hear whispers of Pop in my ear. “Ahh! Welcome to the family!”, or “How ‘bout them Reds?” as a way of suggesting that while I don’t know you well, I trust we have something in common. I see Pop challenging me to let go of biases and ignore differences. I hear him laughing and see him hugging everyone in his wake. Just pure love. That was Pop. At least, that’s the Pop that I remember.
And now here we are in 2021, where bias and mistrust are all too often our default; where anger and frustration, judgment and fear dominate our interactions, on social media and face to face. I think Pop would be heartbroken. And I also think Pop would “not hear” a lot of the hate. I think he’d pipe up when someone mentioned the next Catholic festival or family get-together. The rest…he wouldn’t bother to hear.
Pop is hugging Jesus now, and hugging his wife of 61 years, his siblings, his friends…He’s probably playing Euchre with St. Peter and talking trash about the Reds with St. Paul.
Grandpa…Pop…I hope you know that who you were inspires me. That you are exactly the kind of unconditional love we could use right now. If you don’t mind, I’m gonna keep listening to you and keep trying to be more like you. We need you, and your heart, now more than ever. I love you.