Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The World Will Continue Spinning... Or Will It?

Work. Work. Train. Pedal. Pack. Drive. Practice. Cry. Race. Cry. Drive. Cry. Unpack. Work. Sit. Cry. Work. Plan. Work. Cry.

Sunday morning dawned cloudy, overcast and a bit cool in the back lot where we were camped out. I suppose I should have known something was wrong -- the earth was in mourning. Things went too smoothly. I woke up too early, make coffee too quickly, plugged in and began prepping my rig for practice that would come later. It's okay, I said. "Cool race days are better than hot."

This one was not. At 9:36, I opened my iMessage inbox to find a one-line message from my older brother letting me know that my grandfather had died. As I would later find out, having only wifi on site had led to me missing all of my mom's phone calls, texts and attempts to reach us to let us know that my grandfather was in rough condition. He had suffered a stroke a few days prior, but being out of the loop until the night before left me clueless and blindsided with the news of his death, unable to process his decline and subsequent passing.

I suppose I should start from the beginning... At least for me. My grandfather, Blaine Delton Batty, was born January 26th. He had blue eyes icier than the month of his birth that would melt like a popsicle in July when he laughed; a rowdy, shouting guffaw. It was that laugh of his that I'll never forget. My grandfather would sometimes forget he was holding my hand while laughing and I'd think it was about to pull clean away from my body. Other times, when he was holding me in one of his larger-than-life bear hugs, his whole chest would shake and I'd end up giggling along, just because he was so infectiously thrilled with something. My Grandpa Batty was enthralled by nature; whether it was the telescope in front of the living room window, his National Geographic Nature videos we'd watch together or the birds he'd try to tell me about, the man loved being surrounded by everything in nature. From irrigating the lawn on hot summer days as a child and tossing handfuls of crabapples back and forth to his cherry trees and walnut wood smoke-filled workshop, my grandfather was an enigma. Stubborn as an ass, his daughters would say. Opinionated and bullish, my mom would tell me... But he was my Grandpa, first and foremost. He patiently taught me how to play checkers, then cleverly explained how to beat my brother at them. He'd lift me high on his shoulders so I could reach the best cherries on the tree; he taught me how to recognize 'bird berries' from the edible ones on his bushes to keep me from poisoning myself and later, different plants that would help or hurt me. Grandpa hand built his grandkids a playhouse, complete with not only a slide but with an actual fireman's pole, right above his workshop where he could keep an eye on us. He poured a goldfish pond that he kept stocked with shimmering, sleek fish that we'd spend hours watching, listening to his pet peacocks hoot around the barns... My grandpa wasn't just my hero -- the neighbors all adored him and 'Mr. Batty' was a legend in his small Lindon neighborhood, even as his rural haven changed and became a suburb. He embraced them, those neighbors; lawn care tips and game-curing help poured from his encyclopedic brain, peppered with funny anecdotes and Batty-esque humor.

My childhood was filled with joy because of a man who saw past my know-it-all shell and into my curious, questioning mind. My grandfather was my best friend... He never gave me the brush off or was too busy for my (many) inquiries; for an awfully impatient man, he tolerated one little girl with nothing but kindness, love and respect. Sometimes, it was tough love and would end with a swat and a shake. Sometimes, it was shockingly sweet and he'd hug me close until the tears stopped. During the summer, he'd mow his lawn three times in one day if I'd ask him to, if only because I loved his giant riding lawnmower. Winter saw him shoveling not only his own driveway and walk, but the houses around him, too, letting us kids follow his huge bootsteps through the snow. He'd salt and walk and shovel until everyone was taken care of, and he left that generous spirit to his children and grandchildren as a small part of his giant legacy. My dad still does the same damn thing. I remember his hands and how tiny and safe I felt when I held them, and his huge slippers. I remember how, when he was tired of listening to the chatter of the adults around him, he'd just turn off his hearing aid and close his eyes. I remember the swingset he built for us and the trampoline sprinklers during the summer. He could shell a walnut faster than you can blink, and always smelled like life... Flannel and sunshine and woodsmoke and grass.

My granddad worked at Geneva Steel for decades, was a WWII vet and lost two sons before they saw 21. He'd butcher, pack and freeze his own meat and drove a Ford pickup most of his life. He loved Christmas so much that he'd raise a lit star 50 feet in the air on a steel pole every December that we could see from the other side of State Street, and his place would be lit like Clark Griswold's house, multiplied by 1,000. I was always pretty sure it could be seen from space and every Christmas eve, he'd tell us to turn it on so that Santa could find the house... I'll never forget lots of things about my grandfather, but most of all, I'll never forget his spirit that I see in my dad and my brothers and in myself. I'll never get away from the determined Batty sense of adventure, or the need to see how far I can push the limits. I'll never take 'No' for an answer and I'll always love confrontation, information and education. I'll never be afraid of hard work, depending on myself or taking care of the people around me. I'll never be too worried to hold someone close, to laugh when I'm happy and yell when I'm mad. Every time I see a goldfish in a pond or eat fresh cherries or wade through water or taste strawberry ice cream on a hot summer day, I'll think of my Grandpa Batty. When I thumb through a bird book, drink a Coke or happen upon a bottle tree, I'll feel him in the air around me.

The man was indeed that -- a man. A beautiful, stubborn, strong, capable, loving, imperfectly perfect man. From pioneer and moonshiner stock, he's the fabric I'm cut from. From his patience came a woman unafraid of who she is and proud of the quirks he left her with. Because of him, the world is a better place. His light will not dim because he is gone, no... It will only shine brighter because of those he loved.

Thank you, Grandpa. I love you. Rest in peace.