02 January 2008

remembering grandpa rocky

Today my family gathered at my parents' home for a New Year's Day meal together. I think it has something to do with turning 30 soon, but I have long been wanting to go through the many albums and boxes of family photos: to see photos from my childhood, to have memories triggered by photographs.

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.


  1. I often think about what it would be like if Grandpa Rocky and Grandma Helen were still alive and the impact they would have on my life. Profound comes to mind. I miss them too! Now you are getting me all choked up.

  2. Tell me about it, Kaari! I couldn't help but get teary when I saw this picture. All sorts of memories & feeling come flooding back. They've been gone half my life now (more than that, for you) and sometimes I still miss them in a way that is so fresh.

    I do like to think that Grandpa can look down on me from heaven and smile when I spill food on myself and say, "that's my girl!!" :o)

  3. Grandpa Rocky sounds a lot like me. I was also in the Navy and previously married. Just like him, my ex-wife cheated while I was at sea and didn't bother to hide it. I was faced with the decission of staying in or getting out. I chose to stay in at the risk of loosing my daughter. We were distant for many years but now she realizes what I did was for her and we have grown close again.

    I wish I had pictures like that but my mother, in one of her manic depressive moods destroyed all of the pictures from my childhood and now I only have memories.

    My father was like that as far as eating. He always managed to get something spilled on him and he would refuse to wipe it off saying "I like it there". Oh the embarrasment. :) I do it now to my kids sometimes now too.

    Thanks for the memories.

  4. It is through the lens of our earthly relationships that w elook at our relationship to Christ. You have been blessed with great relationships and great memories. These all serve to help you relate to God all the more.

    I thank God for good relationships and good family. It makes it easier for me to do just that... Thank God.

    Happy New Year!

  5. Greg, I am so saddened to hear that you had a similar experience. What a difficult and heartbreaking thing to face! I am glad to hear that you have rekindled that relationship with your daughter.

    Ha! The "I like it there" comment sounds like something Grandpa Rocky would say. He was well past any embarassment in that regard.

    I agree, Carl. It is so fortunate to have human relationships that give us a good picture of our heavenly one. As good as they can be, it is amazing & wonderful to think that these only shadow God's love for us. I feel immeasurably blessed.

    Happy New Year to you, too!! :o)

  6. Absolutely.

    I'm responding to your last lines about it also being an image of you with your heavenly Father. I had that same thought as I studied the picture of you with Grandpa Rocky. Just a month old or younger?! You are so vulnerable, innocent, and unencumbered in that photograph, so restful and at peace. I can't help but wonder if that is the way our heavenly Father would have us come to Him always (and perhaps approach life?).

    It moved me to see this picture of you so tiny. I felt reverence, like, "Wow. There's my friend Kirsten, just a handful of days old in the world." It might sound strange, but it deepened my regard for you.

    You brought Grandpa Rocky to such life in these stories. What a character! I love that he made up his nickname in that moment of meeting your grandma, like he was being reborn.

    Love to you this day. I'm missing you, if that makes any sense at all.

  7. Christianne - I miss you, too friend. It makes complete sense to me!!

    I'm glad you felt that from the the photo too. It's hard to believe I was ever that small, tiny, & so terribly helpless and vulnerable. When Christ enjoins us to come to Him as little children, I wonder if a picture like this is what He has in mind: to be entirely unselfconscious & at rest because though we are ultimately helpless & tiny & so terribly vulnerable in this world, we can trust Him completely to hold us that way, to protect us, nurture us, and to proactively see to our safety & well-being. I don't know that a photo has ever communicated so much to me before or produced such a profound response in me, but this one certainly does. I can't imagine any other photo teaching me so much.

    And yes, that Grandpa Rocky was quite a character! I can't imagine that anyone who ever met him ever forgot him. I just have oodles of stories from my own limited memory ... mostly, I remember rolling with laughter.

    Love to you, my friend. Looking forward to seeing you very, very soon!!

  8. Grandpa stories are the best! When you would ask my great-grandpa how he was he would reply with the most cheerful voice and the brightest smile, "horseshit, thank you very much!" I miss that guy.

    Thanks for the tender reflection Kirsten.

  9. This was such a sweet tribute. I love how he gave himself the nickname Rocky. Sounds like a real character. I also love the picture of a tiny, vulnerable you!

  10. Ah, Terri! I love your grandpa story, too. Sounds like something my own grandfather would have said; with the careers of sailor, bartender, dockworker, & longshoreman, you can bet your britches that his vocabulary included a lot of um ... "four letter words". :o)

    Thanks, Chloe. It's so hard to believe I was ever that small! And of course, it's nice to have the visual reminder of someone so special to me who has long since passed.

  11. Wonderful post! It is amazing to think of all of the people who are instrumental in making us who we are..

  12. Going through old photographs is haunting and lovely and these little windows into life that was lived day to day, in the moment.
    What an honoring of your grandfather.
    Thank-you for sharing him with us.

  13. Bella - thank you for visiting me here. "Haunting" is such an apropos word for the thoughts & feelings these old photographs, these captured moments inspire.