I never really had a grandfather. My dad's dad was born three days before my birthday and died three days after my third birthday - and that's about the extent of my connection to him. The guy my mother called her dad died well before I was born, and wasn't her dad anyway. The guy who actually was her dad either didn't know it or didn't acknowledge it - she never met him, and neither did we. She knew his address, which was just a few blocks from ours, and I remember this one time he was in front of us in the mall parking lot. We all laughed and shouted, "Hurry up, grandpa!" and that was the most we've ever said to him.
You don't walk into someone's life 40 years later, you just see them at the store or the bank or on the highway and you imagine all the things you will never know about them.
I never even thought about not having a grandfather. Where I come from, men at all are pretty rare commodities. I didn't know anyone who had a grandfather in their lives. We had a dad occasionally, so we were doing better than most, anyways. Count ye blessings and all.
My step-mother, who was just my dad's girlfriend for a lot of years, used to bring us to her parents' house when we were visiting Colorado for the summer. It was years before they thought of us as their grandchildren, or before we thought of them as our grandparents, but it happened eventually. We all learned to trust each other over the summers spent in their backyard and their fridge. My oldest brother and I eventually lived in Colorado, just a few blocks away from them, and we found a way to forge independent relationships with these little Italian people not old enough, or tall enough, to be our grandparents.
Her father, my step-grandfather, had a chair that he sat in, quietly watching the comings and goings of his wife, his children and grandchildren, the neighbors, the kids they took care of during the day, and more John Wayne movies than a body has a right to. I met him after he retired, and occasionally he'd look up at the thermostat, and then over at me, and say, "Hell, it's happy hour somewhere." We never talked about anything important, we never debated ideals or shared our dreams, but we talked all the time, once upon a time, sitting out on his porch at scotch:30 PM.
My first birthday party was at his house. My first wedding was, too. He rolled with everything life threw at him, from the navy to his four kids and a sea of grandkids - including four that weren't technically his, but I don't think he technically gave a shit. He was wonderful when we needed him to be, and let us all bow as quietly out of his life as we creeped into it.
He was a good man, with dry humor and a heart three sizes bigger than his five foot nothing frame could hold. That heart stopped beating at 5:26 am this morning.
I wish I'd told him all of this before I couldn't.