Last week, the tight ship I’ve been trying to run ’round here ran into a bit of a swell. James’ parents arrived and our house became a construction zone. During the day, the near-constant sound of chainsaws and belt sanders; at night, decadent dinners and too much wine. Then, on Wednesday, my Grandpa King passed away at 84 after a full life and a long battle with cancer. I made my way to YVR on Friday (via bike, ferry, bus, and beloved cousin Laura) and landed in Winnipeg at midnight. I spent all day Saturday with the whole King clan, celebrating his life and just being together. I flew home to my crew at 6 am Sunday morning.
Below is the Grandchildren’s Tribute I gave at the service. Some people have asked for a copy, so here it is for them (and whoever else wishes) to read.
The word grandfather is supposed to be synonymous with old age. It’s supposed to conjure images of spectacles and canes and heavy woollen coats.
But it never was quite that way for us King grandkids. Grandpa was, to us, an enigma. Our parent’s parent. Our elder. But here was a man who defied age. Here was a man who’d ride his motorcycle all the way to Oakbank to take us whizzing down country roads, my hair whipping against my face if I ventured to peer out from behind him. Here was a man who towed us along the paths of Kildonan Park on his purple tandem bicycle—sometimes making multiple trips just to keep us all happy.
Grandpa King was a boy in a man’s body. His physical energy hung on for so long it was remarkable. Every time I came back to visit I expected an old man. And yet there he was, so alive. That energy lives on in many of us, as do his other passions: music, as we’ve heard so beautifully today, tinkering and fixing things, and caring for others, most notably Grandma, as the two aged.
He had an energy of spirit, too: Grandpa King was mischievous. He loved to tease and to trick, and to poke gentle fun. What kind of grandfather convinces his granddaughters that there’s a wolf living in the abandoned railway tunnel behind the house? I was so afraid of that imaginary wolf. After all, Grandpa had shown me its fur! I’d heard its howls in the night! I don’t know how I made it through so many sleepovers on Kildonan Drive. Thank goodness for the candies Grandma would stash under our pillows—sweet comfort against the fear.
He was the kind of grandpa who’d offer .25 to the first person to eat the jalapeño pepper off the salad at Olive Garden. He was the one who taught us how to “moon” each other, an antic that supplied hours upon hours, days even, of giggles, much to our parent’s annoyance. With Grandpa, everything was an adventure: A walk along the beach became a hunt for buried treasure and lost relics. A visit to his basement workshop became a top-secret meeting in his hidden bunker, smelling of cedar and pine. Tobogganing on the hill behind the house was as exhilarating as a ski tour through the Alps. A birthday party in our backyard became a circus ring, complete with a moustached man doing flips on a trampoline. That one was good enough for hours of bragging to my friends.
While he may have been a man of few words, he loved us boundlessly: The way his eyes sparkled at a teasing comment he, at least, thought was hilarious. The way he always showed up for games or concerts. The way he welcomed our boyfriends and girlfriends, spouses, and friends. The way he accepted us, despite our absences and bad decisions. He communicated his love by his presence, quietly washing up the 18-plus serving platters Grandma had used for Thanksgiving dinner, then boiling water for even more cups of coffee, then sitting quietly in the corner, an island of contentment in the mayhem around him. In the last decade of his life, he became 9 times a great-grandfather—a title that we grandkids knew was really the proper one all along.
How many little girls get to have their Grandpa around for 39 years of their life? Despite this incredible gift, I could’ve used one more motorcycle ride, some handmade shelves for my new house. If you could have one more moment, what would you choose? An ice cream trip on the tandem, or maybe another game of Rook?
I have a feeling Grandpa was about as afraid of death as he was of that old wolf.
Perhaps Death, as one of our best contemporary authors wrote, is but the next great adventure.
Goodbye Grandpa King. We, your loving grandchildren, will miss you dearly.