Memories of Poppy and our Icee road trips

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 2, 1999

As I ride along sipping an Icee, my mind wanders back to my childhood. The familiar red and blue striped cups haven’t changed much through the years, but my world certainly has.

In the early 1970s one of the biggest joys in my life was to get to ride to the store to get Icees with my grandfather, Poppy as he’s known to us grandkids.

There I sat, nothing more than a little runt, the youngest and, my siblings would argue, the spoiled one, but somehow I felt special there on the seat of his old pickup. He always spent the time to explain things and make us feel important. It made a great impression on me.

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One of his usual teases was &uot;I’ll get you an Icee if you go get your hair cut like mine.&uot;

He had a crewcut. And no self-respecting child of the 70s would have been caught dead with a crewcut they didn’t look good with the mood rings and leisure suits.

Although I never took his offer, I always ended up with a blue and red striped cup in my hand. It’s funny I’d shave what’s left of my hair in a second if I could hop in that truck with him again.

Twenty years later, I’m driving to see him lying in a hospital bed he’s been in one for more than a month this time.

The 79-year-old whose once strong body pushed me around his yard in a wheelbarrow for what seems like a million miles is slowly dying.

We all know death is inevitable, but we still like to deny its certainty.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in all of the funk of everyday life and forget the important things like Icees and grandpaws. It’s a clich\u00E9, but you don’t appreciate what you have until you lose it, or almost lose it. Clich\u00E9s are born because they encircle great truths.

It took an early morning call from my mother to shock me back into what’s really important the ones you love.

Through tears, she said that overnight Poppy had a turn for the worse. One of his handful of doctors said he’d be gone in a few hours if he wasn’t put on a ventilator.

My mother, an only child, had the lone burden of decided whether or not to put him on life support. It’s unfair to ask a daughter to decide the fate of her father. Tormented by what the &uot;right&uot; thing to do was, she finally decided to have faith in him and gave the order to put him on the ventilator, not knowing if he’d ever breathe on his own again.

His illness didn’t come suddenly. He’s been sick for years and he’s no stranger to hospitals. He was diagnosed with asbestosis, in 1979.

He’d worked for years as a plumber and a shipbuilder. As long as I can remember, he worked. He dreamed of retiring, buying a farm and spending his waning years worrying about chickens, cows and such. But as my mom reminded me in the hall outside the intensive care unit, &uot;You can’t choose how you’re going to go.&uot;

Apt words, but it never seemed fair to me that one of the hardest working men I’ve ever known was crippled by asbestos, a byproduct of the very work itself.

For now, he’s still struggling to hang on and the entire family is still praying.

The long drive to the hospital gave me time to reflect on my life and his impact on it. Through the years, he’s taught me volumes. Now even as a machine gives him his next breath, he’s still teaching.

His illness and my fear of losing him serves to remind me not to take people for granted.

I hope to stop and remember the people that make life worth living.

I won’t let anything stand in the way of my heart.

I’ll hug them and squeeze them a little tighter and hold them a little longer than before.