Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Veterans Day & Grampy

Yesterday's Veterans Day was quite different this year. Many of the veterans in my life have moved on to heaven within the last year or so. My grandpa was the first to pass, having served in Guadalcanal. Then my uncle John, who served in Vietnam. And finally, Jim's Grampy, who passed away early on Saturday morning, who served in World War II as well.

Each of these men touched our lives so deeply. Each of these men were our heroes. Each of these men will live on in our hearts. And each one will certainly live on in the stories we'll tell to Ian throughout the years.

Living here in Pennsylvania for these last three weeks, I have felt the sting and the empty seats at the dinner tables. This is where my grandpa and Uncle John lived. These are the trees my grandpa trimmed, returning to the house for lunch smelling of pine, gasoline, and spearmint gum. My sleeping arrangements are above the workshop where my uncle designed much of the furniture around his home. Their presences are felt, but still I yearn to hear their familiar voices and enjoy the comfort of having them near.

Saturday we learned that Jim's grandpa, Shirley Barlow, passed away early in the morning. I've met him a couple times, but most of what I know comes from stories Jim has shared over the years.

Grampy served in the Navy as a pilot in Japan during World War II.

He was a handsome fellow with a great, curly, thick head of red hair.  I once saw a picture of him in a leather jacket with his hair slicked back and he looked like a character straight out of the movie Top Gun. Some family members think Ian may have inherited his red hair. We'll see in time.

Red Barlow worked for General Electric as a foreman for most of his life after the Navy.

Grampy met Jim's Grammy, and was five years her junior, when she stayed in his family's boarding house. They fell in love and were devoted for sixty-eight full years. When we visited the two of them this past January, they were still holding hands and speaking tenderly to each other. A beautiful testimony of marriage.

Jim fondly remembers their home in upstate New York. They lived in Duanesburg and raised their five children there. The home was a small building when they purchased it, but they added additions over the years and dug a basement and foundation around the existing building. Grampy was a hard worker, always finding a new project. He would cut down cedar trees on his property and make shingles out of them to place and replace those on the side of his house.

The property had a pond, that they put in, and a beautiful creek with large slabs of rock creating cascades of water down its entirety. Jim would spend hours creek-walking and exploring the evergreen woods surrounding the creek.

In the mornings, Jim remembers, Grampy would head down into his basement and lift weights. He had a set of barbells. The pond was where Grampy would take his morning dip after his workout. Even in the wintertime, he would place a window frame on the surface so that he could take his plunge into the ice cold water. If Jim got up early enough, he would go down and watch his grandfather lift weights and then travel up to the pond with him. Occasionally he'd join him in his swim.

Jim always remembers Grampy loved having pets. He often had a big dog that he would dote on and enjoy. He had lots of dogs; one was named Bear. We brought Leif with us last Christmas and he really enjoyed getting to pet and joke with him.

Both of them also loved birds. There were many bird feeders outside their windows throughout the year and they'd watch them come and go.

Grampy was a strong specimen until only a few short years ago. An example for Jim of what he'd like to be in his old age. We are saddened by his loss and are grateful for the hope we have of being with him again, when age and memory won't play a role in our interactions.

Rest in peace, Shirley "Red" Barlow.

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