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He Traded Legs for Wings

To My Late Grandfather

By Nicole FennPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 7 min read
He Traded Legs for Wings
Photo by Ray Hennessy on Unsplash

To Grandpa Gerkin,

I'm not an overly religious person, but when mom said that a cardinal was your favorite bird, I can't help but just wonder when I see one at what seems like the most random moments in life. I saw one when I graduated college, when I moved to my first apartment, when that apartment complex stood in a flood as I lost my car, and when one would appear on the AC unit sticking out from the other side of my window during the 7 months I was unemployed because of the pandemic. But even still during these points that stand out the most, little moments here and there where I just felt hopeless with life and the future felt so uncertain. At my lowest, when getting up out of bed was the hardest task of the day, where it felt like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders and a deep, dangerous sadness sitting on my chest - I would see those bright, distinguishable colors against the dull hue of life.

And then I just knew, it had to be you. It had to be you there watching me as I moved into my new apartment, as I got my new job, as I drove my new car off the lot. I knew it had to be you reminding me that there is still hope, even when life shackles you in chains and pulls you to the earth, keeping its hand to your neck as you struggle to raise yourself, to stand back up on wobbling feet. I knew I could at least lift my head from the dirt and see those blossoming colors there and then gone, but the realization still there; that it could have been you.

I never realized the bond we had. Never realized how much you loved me, your first-born grandchild, until I grew older. Until I realized that you had started taking me out to lunches as I started college. It was quality time you always wanted, and time I never thought I knew I needed with you, almost until it was too late. You had...projects you wanted me to help you with, myself being creative and going to college for graphic design, you wanted me to help you put together a family album with my great aunts and uncles, uncles and aunts and young cousins, mom, dad, sister, and I. You had all these ideas for the album, taking notes during our lunches out to give me as a guide - I regret not starting the album - however, I feel as though you'd forgive me; for it wasn't too soon after when you got sick, really really sick.

It started out as a cold, grandma coming along with you to our lunches as you started losing your voice from the virus. Scratchy throat, runny nose; it's a good thing this was back in 2016 before Covid, or else its symptoms would have been much worse for you. You already had plenty of health issues, but you always had a smile on your face; doing anything and everything to make my sister and I laugh, or smile the biggest and brightest.

It wasn't soon after where our lunches started growing further and further apart. Once a week turned into once every two weeks, then once every month as the cold started turning into something else. It was your kidneys first, then your heart as it started to become weaker and weaker. You made it to your 70th birthday, but unfortunately no later. It was January 13th of 2017, sepsis poisoning had taken you from me, and it wasn't until then where I realized how empty life had become.

I never take anyone in my life for granted, especially loved ones and family members. But I suppose with you, it was as if I had assumed you'd be in my life forever. You'd see me graduate college, get married, maybe even see me start a family of my own. I was a junior in college when you passed at 11 at night, myself never able to sleep or fall asleep around 11pm for months to come, never able to find warmth in the chilled clutches of the winter's dark veil.

I became so lost. Lost in trying to find hope, trying to find a light at the end of the tunnel, trying to find my way from the memories that remained from your time on earth and in my life. I remember spending the weekend at grandma and grandpa's with Kelly, we'd wake up on Saturday morning and creep downstairs, while the floorboards of the large two story house would give away my sister and I's presence. Grandma would be reading the newspaper in the living room at the back of the house, you cooking in the kitchen, seeing us first and asking if we wanted waffles or eggs. Or how you'd make me rootbeer floats every time I visited because rootbeer was your favorite drink, and became mine as well rather quickly. The same with pickles, well of course because your last name was Gerkin, it was a must!

You absolutely loved cooking, making the entire Thanksgiving and Easter dinner for our family for years. Now, whenever I cook, I always ask with a smile and whisper to myself, "Does this look good, grandpa? Did I leave the chicken cooking for the right amount of time? Do you think this seasoning will be good with this dish?". And I know you're looking down on me, from where ever you are, with the biggest smile on your face - at least I'm trying!

I also have the memory in middle school where we had to write a paper about a hero in our lives, and I chose you. You were a part of the Knights of Columbus at your church, always looking out and helping others in your community. Having food drives and charitable picnics, raising money to help others, always selfless and thoughtful of those around you, even if they weren't family. You've served this country and most importantly, showed me endless love, compassion, and hope. You loved nothing more than your granddaughters, your own children, grandma, and even my dad. And I always find myself wondering, are you there looking out for me? Do you see me still and the triumphs I have, wanting to encourage me to get through the lows, to cherish the highs of life. You did, and you went through all of it with a smile on your face, and a heart full of love.

I wasn't there when you passed. I was starting a shift at work when mom called me to bear the news that you might not make it through the night. But, I was in desperate need of money, desperate need of this night's shift; and mom understood - I only hope you understood as well. We did talk on the phone during my break. Yourself barely comprehensible as you were still wearing an oxygen mask, but I heard what I needed to, you telling me you were so proud and you loved me so much. The last thing you said to me was "Bye-bye, Nicki." and I still tear up to this day thinking about it. But part of me is ok with not seeing you hooked up to all those tubes and machines; my last memory of you in person was not in the hospital and instead with a smile on your face. I still do regret not being there, it's immense regret I feel when I really think about that day you passed away, the anniversary of that day just a couple of weeks ago from the day I write this.

However, every time I do see a cardinal sitting on a branch just watching me as I walk out to my car for work, or one flying by as I look out my window in the morning; I know it has to be you watching over me, making sure I'm ok, that I'm making good life choices! And that I'm remaining hopeful, because that's all you would have wanted for me, hope and prosperity in life. You're a hero in my life in that you've taught me courage, and to love those around you no matter if they're family or not. You've taught me to stay true to my passions, to laugh and smile when I can, and to make others laugh and smile as well. I never really truly appreciated what you were to me and your impact on my life until you were gone. I saw glimpses towards the end, and I regret not seeing it sooner.

But on that day you traded your legs for those fiery red wings, did I realize that it's better late than never to learn from a hero that impacted your life in such a profound way. I can only hope you're keeping watch through a cardinal's eyes, making sure I live with love and hope.

I love you, grandpa.

From, your Nicki-doodle


About the Creator

Nicole Fenn

Young, living - thriving? Writing every emotion, idea, or dream that intrigues me enough to put into a long string of words for others to absorb - in the hopes that someone relates, understands, and appreciates.

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Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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  • Jay Kantor7 months ago

    Dear "Nicki-Doodle" - what a special "Nicki"-Name - As I always scroll through your presentations I can always relate - Hope the new j.o.b. is IT for you - Jay

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