Three Days of Celebrating Grandpa

Wednesday 6 p.m. Oct 21

gmagpaI’m sitting in my grandparent’s home office in Houston and drinking coffee out of the “Grandpa Ohio University” mug, while Uncle Tim calls old friends and neighbors. I’ve started to look at pictures of him, but have to back away. It’s hard. He was married to my grandmother for 63 years. He went peacefully in his sleep after a long hard year of illness and being in and out of the hospital. What started out with going into the hospital for a broken hip turned in to a year of him fighting like hell to keep on pushing his will to live for his family and mostly, his wife. While his hip got better, the doctors diagnosed him with a bevy of issues, such as pulmonary fibrosis and a form of leukemia. The poor man was on oxygen from the day he entered the hospital on October 5, 2008 until he passed away October 19, 2009. Prior to that fateful day in 2008, he’d been taking care of Grandma, who is in the early stages of Alzehimers. He was paying bills, cooking meals and keeping the house going.

Today, more than a year later, and almost a year since I’d seen him, I’m writing up notes to speak at his funeral, while making a CD of music for the visitation.

Thank you for coming today. I know he’s very happy that all of you are here.

I wanted to just share a few memories I have of my grandfather.

One of his favorite phrases to my sister Kate, cousin Bucky and I was “I’m going to send you to the moon!”

He would say that when we’d give him a hard time. He pound one fist into his other, and with a smile on his face, he’d chuckle, “Ah, you’d better watch it or I’m going to send you to the moon!”

Another favorite was when we were younger and he’d wake us up by “dive bombing” us – raising his hands above our bellies and then give us a good hard tickle till we screamed and jumped out of bed.

He loved watching old western movies, but not with Gene Autry. He was lukewarm about Roy Rogers, but John Wayne was definitely his favorite.

These days, when he’d call me randomly, the first thing he’d ask is if it is raining in Seattle, because The Weather Channel showed clouds over the Pacific Northwest. And every time I had to tell him, Grandpa, it doesn’t rain up here, it’s just cloudy all the time.

But my favorite memories were when we’d show up at 10050 Warwana Ave. for a visit. We usually entered the house through the garage, Grandpa’s workshop. I loved the smell of the varnish and the sawdust. He’d look up from whatever piece he was refinishing and see us clamoring up the driveway and yell out a big “Hey look there! How ya’ll doing? Who wants a popsicle break?”

So we’d follow him into the house, through the kitchen and stand by the ice box while he dug out an assortment of flavors – cherry, orange, grape or lime. Then we’d all stand around the kitchen, talking about our ride down from Ohio, slurping away before they melted down our hands.

So Grandpa, now you get all the popsicle breaks you want, plus all the BlueBell ice cream you ever wanted. And be sure to keep the gates to heaven greased with WD-40 for the rest of us.

Thursday night/Friday morning Oct 22 12:15 a.m.

We’re in the middle of it. Smack dab in the middle of the emotional roller coaster. The visitation tonight went better than I thought it would. At 5 p.m. we entered the chapel together – Tim and Mom holding Grandma, followed by Mark and Tom, then me and Beth. As we approached the casket, it hit me that we were at the hardest point of this entire process – the viewing of the body. I think we all feared that it wouldn’t look like him, as funeral homes sometimes are known to mess with during the dressing of the body. But – it looked like him. It really really looked like him. And for the first time in a long time, he was at peace. Hands crossed, clasping a rosary. Sure he had the makeup on but it looked like him. So much so, I expected him to just flutter his eyes open and sit up and say, “Well, what are ya’ll staring at?”

We were all extremely relieved. Another layer of the raw emotions had been lifted.

We all stared, hugged and sobbed for a few minutes, in disbelief that this was actually happening. Then one of us snapped into typical Vetrano form and giggled. Mom giggled and said, where’s the teabag? We need to add the teabag!

As we were sitting around the table the night before talking logistics and memories, it turned to half-jokingly what we should put in the casket to send him to his grave with – we had celery in the flower spray on the casket b/c that’s the first bouquet he gave Grandma, plus he loved chomping on it.  We then added his Bubba Gump Hat that he loved wearing around the house, something he got on one of his many trips to Colorado to visit Ken, Dianne and John. Fondly remembering his days of drinking tea, I half-jokingly said, “I want to put some teabags in his breast pocket.”

So when Mom made the comment, I realized the family was serious. So I pulled out a Lipton bag from my wallet and grabbed the one from Tim, who I told to stash one just in case I forgot. I leaned over Grandpa and stuffed them in the little suit pocket.

After that, everything was OK. We all took a big breath and sigh of relief. He was at peace and we were too. And, of course, we couldn’t stop laughing. And I’m sure he was right there laughing with us.

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Friday evening Oct. 22

This is so ridiculous hard. A lot harder than I thought it would be. I wasn’t physically close but when we all came together to visit, we all picked up right where we left off. New jokes would be made, we’d laugh harder than we ever did before, memories, old stories would come up, running jokes would continue. It was never doom and gloom and old people and boring. They never acted their age, even for being in their 80s. Very much kindred spirits. Always light hearted and fun. And while I’m 3,000 miles away, it’s hard to believe that he won’t come walking around the corner to see what Western is on or find a new project to fiddle with, or announce that he’s going to Wal-Mart.

In a weird way, while the last time I saw him he was in the hospital, the previous time before that, he was healthy and working around the house like I’d always known him. And I’m glad to have more of those memories than of the past year that tim, mark and mom had to go through. And mom made a good point – I’ve had 30 good years with my grandfather. Not everyone is so lucky.

His obituary

Philip Arthur Vetrano, of The Woodlands, died Oct 19, 2009. He was 88.

Philip was born to Joseph and Rose (Passafuma) Vetrano in Houston, Texas on April 15, 1921. He had two sisters, Mamie Marie Vetrano and Rosalie Cornelia Vetrano.

He married Eva Elaine Ghormley on July 12, 1946 in Houston. They had four children.

He graduated from WHICH HIGH SCHOOL, and attended University of Houston, studying engineering. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

He worked for Gray Tools Company and was an engineer with NL Baroid for several decades.

He enjoyed spending time with family, chatting with friends and neighbors, watching old Western movies, refinishing furniture and baking.

He was preceded in death by his sisters and grandniece Michelle.

He is survived by his wife, Elaine; daughter Janet (Tom) and sons Phillip Jr., Tim (Beth) and Mark; five grandchildren Tiffany, Kate (Michael), Phil, Evan (Kent) and Jennie; Niece Dianne (Ken) Piper, John Daigle and Steve Daigle; Grandniece Amy (William) Crawford; Grandnephews (STEVE’S KIDS); his cousin Ursula, and many extended family members and friends.

Funeral arrangements were through Earthman Funeral Directors and Cemeteries. A visitation and rosary service on Oct 22 at 6 p.m. and a funeral service on Oct 23 at 11 a.m. followed by graveside service.

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Saturday Oct. 23 7 p.m.

Grandpa couldn’t have had his last ride any other way. Following the chapel service, our 10-car procession to the cemetery was accompanied by three roaring, sirens-blaring, lights-flashing motorcycle cops who managed to move Houston traffic for us on a Friday afternoon. Not an easy feat. Grandpa would have loved it, with the way those cops were weaving in and out of the cars, stopping 18-wheelers and taking us through red lights. We laughed the whole way, just like Grandpa would. What a ride.

The coach also pulled a Grandpa – the coach started to exit off a ramp to the right, then quickly pulled back to the left, narrowly avoiding a traffic barrier. At that point, we definitely knew Grandpa was orchestrating this whole thing.

Funeral day was simple. The showing of support from family, as well as old neighbors, coworkers and friends was amazing and made the day so much easier, especially for Grandma. The service was short and sweet, and the pastor was incredibly personable. While we’ve never really celebrated our Italian roots, the fact the pastor was Italian seemed appropriate. The graveside service was very short, with a few readings from Mom and ended with the funeral director passing out roses and celery to the family and women in attendance.

Life seems to be getting back to normal at the Vetrano household. The TV has football on, food is being cooked with too many cooks in the kitchen. Grandma in her room napping, table set for dinner from Tom. The funeral bouquets and plants just look like we went shopping for a bunch of flowers. Of course, this is normal for when all of us are in town. It’s going to be hard for all to make the transition to this new chapter of life, especially for Grandma. I can’t help but feel sad for her. Her partner, husband and best friend of 63 years is gone. He called her Sweetie and fought like hell to the past year to get stronger so he could take care of her. We also wished the best for him, but at the same time, it’s comforting to know that he’s no longer in pain. Just so sad that he’s not going to come shuffling around the corner, announcing his presence with his deep cough and then announce, “Who wants to go to Wal-Mart?”

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