Weevy’s grandfather — my dad — died a couple of weeks ago. He’d been sick for a couple of years, so I’m not sure how much Weevy remembers of him when he was healthy. But he used to hang out with us all the time before she started going to school. Not that I particularly WANTED him to as much as he did, but he loved coming over. Not so much to see Weevy, I don’t think, because he never seemed to know what to do with her when she was a toddler. But he enjoyed sitting in her room and reading my copy of the Times and eating lunch that I’d order for the three of us and occasionally dozing off while Weevy and I played. Family togetherness.
When Weevy was born, the missus and I asked him what he wanted to be called. “Shel,” he said. “I’m too young to be called Grandpa!” Mind you, he was 80 at the time. But he really believed it. His body may have been 80, but I think until the day he died he thought of himself as a hearty middle-aged guy. So Shel it was. Which confused Weevy — who calls her other grandfather Grandpa — quite a bit when she was a tot. If we bumped into people we knew while walking with him, she’d introduce him as “our friend Shel.” One time I asked her: “Do you think of Shel as our weird old friend or your grandfather?” “Weird old friend,” she replied, without missing a beat.
Shel never quite knew how to talk to Weevy — his favorite thing to say to her was “Where’s your nose?” which never failed to amuse her. He started saying it before she really knew where it was — she’d point to the right place sometimes, but more often her cheek or her eye — and continued right up until the end. Sometimes he’d ask her when they were on the phone, and then say, “I can’t see where you’re pointing.” So I’d tell him she was pointing at the right spot.
Shel was hard of hearing but was too stubborn to get a hearing aid. He honestly thought the entire world had started mumbling except for me, because I spoke extra loud and clearly to compensate for his hearing loss. Weevy, however, was a bit shy around him and tended to mumble, especially on the phone. He usually couldn’t get much more than a “Hi, Shel” out of her, no matter how hard we both tried to get her to have a conversation. One of the few times it got further than that, the following ensued:
SHEL: Hey Weevy, how’s school?
WEEVY: [mumbling] Good.
SHEL: What’s that?
WEEVY: [a little louder] GOOD.
SHEL: Bad?! Why is it bad? You don’t like school?
ME: Dad, she said “good.”
SHEL: Oh! OK then, let’s try it again. Hey Weevy, how’s school?
WEEVY: [at moderate volume] GOOD.
SHEL: She said “bad” again!
Weevy didn’t see much of Shel the last year or so, because of his dialysis schedule and because he was too sick to get to the West Side. His apartment was a couple degrees shy of being declared a federal disaster area, so I never brought her by to see him. The wife and I brought her to see him in hospice the day before he died. He looked horrible; he’d fallen and really done a number on himself a week or two before, so his head was a mass of bruises and swelling. He was lying on his side, not able to do much more than open his eyes and communicate in the occasional monosyllable. I wasn’t sure how Weevy would react, because I didn’t have a close relative of mine die until I was in my mid 20s. But Weevy wasn’t afraid, thanks in large part to her mother, who’d prepared her for what she was going to see. She said a chipper “Hi, Shel!” and we told him a little about what she’d been up to with school, swimming, cello lessons, etc. He couldn’t talk but I know he understood. She even talked extra loud and clear so he would understand. I was so proud of her.
The next day, he died when I was in a cab going to see him. He never liked to wait for anyone and he was always early for every appointment, so I suppose his final departure was in character. Weevy and the wife came by about 20 minutes after I got there. Again, I didn’t know how she’d react to seeing a dead body. But she was, to my surprise, fine. She looked at him for a minute, said “Goodbye, Shel,” and then sat down and played her iPad while we waited for the funeral home to come take him away. After a couple of hours, we all left, and out of habit, I guess, I said, “Bye, Dad.” “Why did you say goodbye to him?” Weevy asked. “He’s dead!” She did have a point. She was great at the funeral, too, which to be fair is a lot like a party, only with a very… reserved guest of honor, who ends the proceedings in a box in the ground.
I’m not sure whether she fully understands that Shel is gone and not coming back. A few days after the funeral, the phone rang at about 7:30 in the morning — the time he’d usually call. “Is that Shel?” she asked, with a little sly smile. Hey, I keep thinking I’m going to hear from him any minute, so she’s not alone.
Shel was crazy about Weevy, whether or not they had anything to say to each other. And for a long time she was crazy about him, too. My wife was always fascinated that he adored her so much, because he didn’t seem to have much use for females in general, unless he was dating them. And he often told me how he’d always wanted a son. “Well, what if I was a girl?” I’d sometimes ask him. “Well, I’m just glad I had a son.” I sort of get it, having desired a daughter from the get-go. But he adored her from the moment she was born — even before, actually. While cleaning out his apartment last weekend, I found an unsent letter he wrote when the missus was pregnant. It said, in part: “Christine is pregnant and they already know it’s going to be a GIRL. I’m telling everyone I’m gonna be a grandmother!”