My paternal grandfather, known as Papa, died last week.
He was my last living grandparent, and I was surprised to feel such overwhelming feelings of being “orphaned” when he died. Not having any grandparents left is going to take some getting used to — even at the ripe old age of 36.
My mom's dad, Grandpa Stoney, was the first to go, way back when I was a sophomore in high school. The rough, tough, carousing old cowboy left boots no one could hope (or want) to fill. But there was a side of him that others didn't see — the loving, funny, kind and smart man who loved his family and spoiled his grandkids and dogs almost equally.
One of my favorite recollections is of one of our many “covert” trips to Dairy Queen with Grandpa. (Mom didn't approve of sweets, but Grandpa didn't pay her much mind.) He loaded my sister and me into his beat-up pickup truck on a sweltering summer day.
As we neared Cody, we were stopped briefly for construction, but we continued on our way. When we got to the Dairy Queen, Grandpa ordered four chocolate milkshakes.
Hallie and I looked at each other, then asked him why. There were only three of us in the vehicle.
“That poor little flagger back there looked awful hot,” he replied.
Grammy, my mom's mother, was next, in 2003. In her quiet way, she left a legacy even larger than her husband's in many ways — at least for her family. Her grace, patience and non-judgmental nature is something I always strive to live up to. But, best of all, she was more than a grandma to us, she was our dear friend and confidante. I still have the urge to call her when I have news — important or mundane, funny or sad, it didn't matter. Grammy was always the first to know.
When my paternal grandmother died two years ago, we, of course, mourned Nana's loss. Not as warm and approachable as Grammy, she was, nonetheless, a remarkable woman. From her early days of traveling by train with her father's rodeo company, rodeo clowns teaching her how to do a proper headstand in the arena dirt at Madison Square Garden, to her later years as a wife, mother and grandmother, she had many tales to tell. Her four grandchildren were privileged to hear hours and hours of stories over the years.
Nana was also the cook, the entertainer, who inspired my love of both and taught me how to do them right.
And now, her husband, Papa, is gone.
He was a talented singer and musician, and he remained a steadfast supporter of the Wyoming Cowboys right up to the end. Even during this dismal football season, his optimism never wavered.
“They just need some time to get things right,” he'd say, before going on to list the things the Cowboys had done well in the game.
He was also stubborn and opinionated and, as a former fighter pilot, he never lost his need to be in control.
After Nana's funeral in 2008, he remarked off-handedly that he reckoned he had about two years left in him before he went to join her.
Somehow, no one who knew him well was terribly surprised when, true to his prediction, he died two years — to the day — after she did.
That's just how Papa was.