Remembering Meredith

My grandpa Meredith passed away a year ago.

I dreamt about him the other night. It was one of those weird dreams where I recognized that he wasn’t alive anymore, but it didn’t bother me. Kind of like, “Hey, you’re not supposed to be here!” and we kept talking about what we normally talk about, which is nothing and the same things over and over and over again.

It was also a weird dream because in it I dreamt that I was sleeping and I dreamt that I woke up. And then he woke up, singing, like he always did. That’s when I laughed, because that’s what I did when his singing woke me up, and that’s when I said aloud that he’s not supposed to be here.

Then he threw the covers to his left, because he always slept on his right side with his right arm bent and tucked behind his tiny pillow. He used a tiny pillow for being such a large guy. And not a store-bought pillow. Literally it was a piece of egg foam cut to the size of a placemat and wrapped in a pillow case. It was basically no pillow at all, but that’s what he liked.

Then he would stiffly rotate his body clockwise, hinging on his hips, his head and torso swinging up as his knees and feet swung down. And then he would look at me, in the bed next to his, and say something like, “Ry baby, what should we have for breakfast?” Except it sound more like, “Ryyyyy baby, whaaat should we haaave for beckest?” And then he would sing, making up some lyrics about how it’s time to make the bed, get dressed, and have beckest with Ry Baby.

Ry Baby — that’s me, by the way.

The answer to this question about what we should have for breakfast depended on the stage of our lives we were in. When I was very young I’d want to go to Lyon’s in Walnut Creek, which happened to be his favorite breakfast spot too. My grandma preferred a place in Lafayette that served eggs benedict and stuff like that. Grandpa just wanted potato skins and I liked french toast. So we’d sit in a booth at Lyon’s and I would eat too much and plant my head against his broad shoulder when I was done. We’d play games with crayons on the back of the menu. That was the routine.

The tables turned when we both got older. As my other grandpa liked to point out, “When you’re very young, you can’t take care of yourself. And when you’re very old, that comes around again.” Getting him out of the house for breakfast wasn’t easy. There was getting him dressed, for one, and his appetite wasn’t the same. So I’d poach some eggs over toast, and that’s all he wanted. Instead of games on the back of the menu he’d play solitaire with a worn deck of cards as I sped off to work. When I returned home he’d be in front of the television, sleeping.

But the Meredith I remember most was the one from my dream. A younger Meredith and a younger me. Me around 8 years old, which puts him around 72. This was the Young Grandpa who would go on bike rides with me around his house in Lafayette, and take our yellow lab Bowie on hikes up in the hills. I’d go with him to make his deposits at Dean Witter, get hamburger meat and spearmint Trident gum at Safeway, come home and water the plants all around his house. That’s when I’d retire to the living room and watch meaningless television. So many hours of The Price is Right.

At Pinecrest, the special lakeside cabin that’s been in our family for years, Young Grandpa swam laps at the cove, starting from the rocky point that was inaccessible to Old Grandpa. We patched up the dock, moved the landing out as the lake level dropped during the summer, and bought groceries and more spearmint Trident at the general store on the south shore of the lake. On quiet days we would get books from the tiny library. I read Robinson Crusoe and Treasure Island.

This past July we spread his ashes on the rocks overlooking Pinecrest Lake, Cleo’s Bath, and the first and second forests above it. It’s the same place where we spread my grandma’s ashes about twenty years before. We told stories and shared laughs. We remembered his kindness, that big heart full of song, a magnetic pull that’s rare in this world.

I’m reminded of him when I watch Winnie the Pooh with my daughter. Like Pooh, he was funny without intending to be; it just poured out of him. He spoke simply and had simple needs, and that’s why he loved and was loved so much.

“It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words, but rather short, easy words, like ‘What’s for lunch?’” — Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne

I slept in his bed that night we spread his ashes. I didn’t mean to — it just happened to be the bed that was available that night which didn’t have a bunch of stuff on it for the family reunion we held that same weekend. I thought about him then, not as Young Grandpa or Old Grandpa, but Passed Away Grandpa. And me as 33-almost-34-year-old Ryan, with a young daughter and another one on the way. I got to be a dad; with any luck, I’ll be a grandpa eventually too.

There’s a dent in that mattress. You can feel it when you sit on the edge of the middle of the bed. It’s the one he made after decades of waking up singing, rotating his body around, and planting both feet on the ground. I’ll always be grateful that a bunch of those times he’d then look to his left where I was just waking up, and ask me, earnestly, “Ryyy Baby, is it time for beckest yet?”

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