Wednesday, December 26, 2007


My sister was born when I was not yet three, so I have no memory of the event. My mother tells me that my grandparents came down to visit and assist during that time, and when she was at the hospital, my grandfather, who I called "Grampa," took me out and bought me some cowboy boots. I'm told I was mighty proud of those boots, and my little feller pride of ownership overwhelmed any other feelings I might have had about the arrival of my one and only sibling. I barely noticed that there was now someone else in the household, or at least I was oblivious for a goodly while.

Besides, Grampa was in town.

We were best buds, he and I. Whenever he was due to visit, I'd get excited for days, and tell all my friends that Grampa was coming. Alternately, when we made the visits to Stanford, Illinois, which took something like twelve hours in those pre-Interstate Highway days, part of the "are we there yet?" excitement was that Grampa was at the other end. We'd arrive and I'd make a beeline for him and he'd pick me up, or, if seated, I'd climb into his lap. In the summertime we'd play catch, and in the wintertime, card games, or maybe checkers. He also got a kick out seeing of me reading my cousin Melvin's comic books, this before I was even five, and I was reading the words, not just looking at the pictures. Of course, he'd also read to me.

For Christmas, when I was six, Grampa and Gramma gave me a bicycle, with training wheels. It was a gray day, just before a snowstorm, but I rode the thing up and down the block maybe half a dozen times before I came inside. Probably someone had to haul me in; I'd have stayed out until I froze, otherwise; I really loved that bike.

I really loved my Grampa, too, or so I'm told.

A few months after that Christmas, Grampa Killus died of a heart attack. He'd had congestive heart disease for some time before that. He was actually at his doctor's office during the onset of the attack, but he refused hospitalization, went home, and died between his car and the house. In those days, there wasn't all that much to do about a heart attack, and survivors usually wound up seriously debilitated. Fred Killus deliberately chose to die, more or less, rather than burden his family with the medical bills and the long lingering debility. Or maybe he just couldn't take the idea of spending his remaining life as an invalid. Or maybe he was just tired.

His funeral service was open casket. I have a clear memory of how he looked laid out like that, and of my sister, who was not yet four, perched on my father's shoulder, looking completely baffled by the whole affair. I remember wondering why I didn't feel very much at all. The phrase "grief councilor" did not yet exist, and I was far too young to know about things like repression.

With the exception of the bike ride and the funeral service, everything I've written here is from the reports of others. I do not remember a bit of it. Every memory I have of my grandfather is motionless, like a still photograph, or something once alive now frozen in a block of ice. I have no recollection of his voice, save one dim memory of him saying "Clubs are trump," during a game of Pinochle, which the adults played, but we kids did not.

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