Saturday, September 3, 2011

What Are You Trying to Do, Ralph? Wreck My House?

"I'm praying for rain in California
So the grapes can grow and they can make more wine
And I'm sitting in a honky in Chicago
With a broken heart and a woman on my mind

I matched the man behind the bar for the jukebox
And the music takes me back to Tennessee
And he asked who's the fool in the corner crying
I say a little ole wine drinker me

I came here last week from down in Nashville
'Cause my baby left for Florida on a train
I thought I'd get a job and just forget her
But in Chicago, the broken heartache's still the same

I matched the man behind the bar for the jukebox
And the music takes me back to Tennessee
When they ask who's the fool in the corner crying
I say a little ole wine drinker me
I say a little ole wine drinker me"

~ Dean Martin's "Little Ole Wine Drinker Me"

This time of year used to mean meeting up with friends after a two month summer hiatus and the beginning of some good old fashioned book learnin'. As we all change and shift in this game called life, so did our priorities in life. Autumn and September, specifically today, shifts for me from new beginnings to honouring the memory of my Grandpa, Leonard Paul Strand. I'd like to share with you today, on 10th "anniversary" without him, some of my favorite memories of Grandpa.

I remember Grandpa being gone a lot in my early years - not because he necessarily wanted to be, but because he worked for the Department of Highways in BC. Grandpa gained many friends, memories, and miles working for the Department. When he retired, with great respect from many if not all of those fortunate enough to work with him (including his son, my Uncle who bares the same name) he'd get a far away look in his eye this time of year as well... It was usually about now he'd be on another adventure up North, working on improving the condition of the highways as a grader man. Though he spent many a year on the highways, Grandpa didn't start out in BC or with the Department of Highways. I remember hearing stories of his life in Dryden, Ontario and how he gained the nick name of "Zip-Zip Strand" while working for the Railroads there. "Zip-Zip" was due to Grandpa being able to scale a mail pole in seconds flat. It was also in Dryden where Grandpa worked as a body guy, as in automotive bodies, and gained an appreciation for cars.

A couple of my fondest memories came before Grandpa retired from the Highways and Byways of BC. While living in rural Vernon, BC, my brother and I had to walk down the hill to mailboxes to catch the big yellow bus to school. While walking down the one day, we noticed a crew of guys waiting by large equipment. One of the guys must have noticed us leaving our long driveway and making our way down to the small group of kids already waiting. The guy looked familiar, I turned to my brother, Scott, and asked "Does that look like Grandpa to you?" A couple steps later, "No, no.... That's not Grandpa..." After a few more feet, "Ya, ya - that's Grandpa." It went on like this the whole five minute walk down the hill. "Ya, that's Grandpa".... "Nope, that's not Grandpa". Turns out it was Grandpa and later he told my Mum (his daughter) that he heard us the whole way down. Pretty funny - kind of embarrassing too!

A year or two later, when I was about ten, I got a birthday card in the mail. It was from Grandpa, who happened to be on the Highway for yet another of my birthdays. Inside the card was a cheque and a note. The note read along the lines of "Hope your birthday is fun, here is some money to spend on whatever you like - don't spend it all on candy!" I happen to have inherited Grandpa's sweet tooth. He enjoyed Cadbury Creme Eggs and every Easter I have my share, as well as his.

Grandpa was an avid Sports fan. Liked Hockey and Football especially. (Must be the Norwegian in him, his NFL team - if I'm not mistaken - were the Minnesota Vikings.) Grandpa played Keno, Sports Select and the lotto and the guy had some luck, too particularly with the ponies. The only luck I seemed to have was being born on Grandpa's Grandpa's Birthday (September 21st - shared with who would have been my Great, Great Grandfather from Norway.) While watching the players paste each other on the field or into the boards, Grandpa enjoyed many a beer... Preferably a Canadian. If music had to be playing rather than the sound from the game - he preferred the likes of Dean Martin and Company.

Though it didn't happen very often, I enjoyed hearing of Grandpa's childhood. He'd poke fun at his own Dad, who happen to immigrate to Canada from Norway, about having "tree sons" instead of "three sons". Stories floated around of when Grandpa worked down in the States when he was barely of high school age. When he attended school in the States, the kids used to call him "Strand, Strand the man from the Northern land." Grandpa was a true Canadian patriot and had no doubt where he belonged. He became pretty homesick and came back to Canada less than a year after leaving. Grandpa did travel abroad after that, but resided only in Canada after that. I also enjoyed looking through old photos of all my grandparents. I remember seeing pictures of Grandpa as a young boy with such blond hair it was almost white. (Odd how at least four of his grand kids also had such blond, blond hair.) There were pictures of when Grandma and Grandpa were dating - I couldn't help but think they looked like they could pass for a couple of Movie Stars. In his later years, Grandpa was notorious for ruining pictures taken of him or of the group he was in. He had a bit of a weak jaw line and would forever hold his head up to try to disguise his "waddle" under his chin. After enough razzing, he quit that habit.

I remember Grandpa being a quiet, laid back kinda guy. Don't be fooled though, he was also a witty, funny kinda guy - kind of a worry wart too. I remember being maybe about 8 and swimming in Grandma and Grandpa's above ground pool. It was getting near to the end of the day and Mum called my younger brother, Scott, and I out of the pool. My Brother, the willful little shit that he remains to be to this day, decided he wasn't done swimming yet... Mum had already pulled one of his "water wings" off then Scott took off again towards the middle of the pool. So here's Scott swimming in a lop-sided circle trying to avoid coming out of the pool, and Grandpa panics a little thinking Scott's going to drown or something, hips up onto the edge of the pool to grab him. Just then Scott swims juuuuust out of reach - Grandpa strains to reach, then all of the sudden *bloop* Grandpa falls into the pool - fully clothed, I might add - and yanks Scott down with him. Grandpa stands up and casually leans on the edge of the pool with an expression of "Well hell, that wasn't supposed to happen!" on his face and Scott bobs to the surface with shock on his face and gasps "GRAND - PA! Are you trying to DROWN me?!" Once it was established that both Scott and Grandpa were alright, everyone had a good laugh. Scott got yanked outta the pool and we had to lay out the contents of Grandpa's wallet on the table to dry out.

Many years later, when I was about 17, I had started to date my first serious boyfriend. It was Christmas time and the boyfriend and my first Christmas together... Only we weren't together because he was out of town visiting family for the holidays. "Naturally" being that it was my first serious relationship, and the fact that I was only 17, I had a serious case of "puppy love" blues going on. Grandpa could see this and did everything in his power to put a smile on my face. He would walk by and do his trade mark stick-out-the-tongue-and-blow fart noise... No dice... Then he came up and asked "Hey Lauren - why do you look so for-lorned!" (Told ya he was a witty kinda guy!) I'll admit, this did give me a kick into a more jolly mood.

If you ask anyone of Grandpa's older eight grand kids about Grandpa - they'll most likely tell you one of two things... That when Grandpa burped, he said "Ralph"... Or they might tell you that when we were growing up and at Grandma & Grandpa's during the summer or on holidays and got rowdy - Grandpa would bellow "What are ya trying to do? WRECK MY HOUSE?" I'd give almost anything to hear him ask that again, especially now that he's got a great grandchild, with another on the way.

Grandpa was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer when I was about 11 or 12. When Mum first told me, I didn't know how to take it. He seemed to battle the disease into remission. The second Cancer diagnosis came when I was about 14 or 15 and the Cancer had spread to one of his kidneys. He over came the disease a second time. Just after Christmas, just after I turned 19, Grandpa was diagnosed with cancer for a third time. This time it was with bone cancer. He fought the best he could but there wasn't much any of us could have done at this point.

I had applied to and was accepted to a college out of town prior to Grandpa's diagnosis and he encouraged me to keep my plans. I moved to Trail, BC in mid-August - a small town Grandpa had many work related memories. The day I moved to Trail, was the last time I saw my Grandpa. He was amazingly lucid that morning and asked if I was nervous and told me not to worry because I would be a "hit" in Trail. He also had great faith that I would do well in my studies. Before I broke out in tears, I told him I better be on my way and that I would see him in about a month because I would be coming home for my birthday in September. Little did I realize that Grandpa wouldn't be there for my birthday that year. It's been said that the third time is a charm, and unfortunately for us, the third time was a charm for the wrong side. Just before noon on the day before classes were scheduled to start, I got a call from my Mum to say that Grandpa was no longer in pain. I grabbed the only framed picture I had of him and I and sat in the middle of my living room floor and cried. The following weekend, which was two weeks before my 20th birthday,  I made the trek back to Vernon for his memorial service.
My Handsome Grandpa - even as he aged....
This was put in Vernon's "The Morning Star"
in his Memory

Grandpa had been right. I was a hit in Trail and made a ton of friends. My path of studies had changed, but I graduated from Selkirk College with a Certificate of Applied Business Technology. Ten years later, I still have friends in Trail and still use what I learned education wise from my Trail days. I've missed my Grandpa everyday of my life since, and hold many fond memories of him.

It's Not Always About Me; however; today I am most certainly "forlorned"... I miss my Grandpa pretty much every day, even 10 years later.

In Loving Memory of Leonard Paul Strand (July 13, 1935 - September 3, 2001)