So we went downstairs and pulled out the old albums and poured through the photos, laughing and remembering. Mom pulled out a photo I had never seen before. It was her dad, my Grandpa Rocky (whose real name was Clarence) holding me as a baby. I cannot be more than a month old; probably even younger than that.
with grandpa rocky, january 1978
Grandpa Rocky died in Feburary 1993 when I was barely fifteen years old; he has been gone just as long as I knew him. It's such a strange feeling. Grandpa Rocky was a full-blooded Dane and not afraid to let you know it. He had a bold, brash, and dry sense of humor. He loved sneaking up on us and cracking our toes, or asking me to play "Who hit Nelly in the belly with the spade?" on the piano. I remember riding in his big white pick-up with him and how he would open the door while driving and spit outside. He often ended up wearing at least part of whatever meal he might be eating, an unfortunate trait I've inherited. The man had a variety of colorful careers in his life including Navy sailor, bartender, longshoreman, and dock-worker. He always made us laugh.
It was a year or two ago I learned that he was married before he met my grandmother. They had a son together, my Mom's half-brother. His first wife cheated on him while he was deployed and serving in the Navy; she flaunted herself about town with a variety of other men. Receiving the news via telegram from his mother while in the middle of the ocean, he was devastated and heartbroken. His despair was so profound and sent him into such a deep depression, it rendered him unfit for active duty. Consequently, he was given an honorable discharge.
Some time after he returned home, he went to a restaurant one day where my grandmother was waitressing. Finding her attractive he said to her, "Hey there Blue Eyes, you can call me Rocky", and though Grandma was tempted not to give him the time of day, she had to appreciate his humor. And that was how their courtship began. "Rocky" was a nickname he had never had before, but bestowed upon himself in that moment and carried with him through the remainder of his life.
He has often shown up in dreams I've had, and sometimes the oddest things will trigger memories of him, moving me to tears. Though he was not one to wear his heart on his sleeve, I think I've understood recently how much I am like him, how much my heart is like his own, how deeply he felt things even though he rarely showed it. I wonder if like me, he felt deeply but often held back, afraid to come out from behind the tough outer shell. I understand now better than while he was alive how much he loved us all, and how much he loved me. Sometimes I'll get the oddest feeling, like he's still nearby, looking over my shoulder.
I think I am so moved by this picture because it is such a rare moment where his tender heart and gentleness are on display. So many things come flooding into my heart when I see this. I still miss him. And I can't help but think too that this might as well be a picture of me and my Heavenly Father, in whose arms I gently rest. I am held and I am safe and I am loved.