I began writing this post two weeks ago in Cincinnati, Ohio and didn’t finish in the time I had. I started writing after the Reds game Friday night and worked on polishing it in the coffee shop Saturday morning. But I couldn’t quite find the right words or flow. It was the last full day of my epic baseball trip and I wanted to make it on time to Cleveland, so I stopped and crafted a different post.
Of all the cities and stadiums, I visited on my trip, Pittsburgh was my favorite. I felt connected from the moment I arrived, I felt welcome, I felt home.
Before I left Pittsburgh, I visited my paternal grandparents. They are buried in a beautiful cemetery to the south of the city center. I had intended to visit them before the game, but I was late leaving Philadelphia. The cemetery where they lay at rest, in eternal peace, was in the general direction I was traveling. So, it was a win-win. I could visit them and get closer to Friday’s destination, Cincinnati.
My grandfather died in 1971 at the age of fifty-two. I was nine years old and remember the summer evening we learned of his death. He died peacefully on July 17, 1971.
It’s funny the things you remember from your childhood and growing up.
We were a small family, and I was envious of my friends who had aunts, aunts, and cousins, and family reunions. Our only cousin and aunt and uncle had come for a short visit, and we played in the yard late until the fireflies came out. It was one of those childhood nights filled with excitement and joy running around outside chasing fireflies, playing tag, and hide and go seek. Inside our home, my dad and mom arranged to fly to Pittsburgh for the funeral.
My dad was an only child, and his father left his mother when he was young. She remarried and the man I knew as my grandfather adopted my dad. My mom had one sister and she and her husband, my uncle, had one child, Kelly. She was a year younger than me. Our entire family consisted of two sets of grandparents, and one aunt, an uncle, and a cousin.
I have one vivid memory of visiting my grandparents in Pittsburgh. It was summer of 1970 and we were returning from a year of living in Venezuela. Earlier that summer we had visited my aunt and uncle in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
My grandfather was an avid sportsman; he hunted, fished, and enjoyed the outdoors. Later in life, when I would ask my mom about him, she always smiled, said she loved my granddaddy, and said he was so different from my dad. She shared he loved golf, could tell remarkable stories, and how much he loved me and my brothers.
It was July when we visited and we knew we’re moving back to our home in Sugar Land, Texas. Their home was nestled in the hills of south Pittsburgh near Mount Lebanon. One afternoon, my grandfather took us the to the sportsman’s club to shoot a rifle. He brought a .22 caliber rifle and lots of tin cans. I only remember firing one shot before a thunderstorm ended our time at the range. My shot clipped a can and I famously remarked,
“….and I wasn’t even shooting at that one!”
to which he laughed and retold to my grandmother when we got home.
As I drove to the cemetery and then to my grandparents’ home, I remembered the steep hills of western Pennsylvania when we visited in 1971 and when I visited their grave site in 2015 with my family.
The cemetery is lovely and sits on a large plot of hilly land. I had telephoned the cemetery, from Philadelphia the day before, to verify where my grandparents were interred and I am glad I did, because the recollection I had was wrong.
The grave markers are flat and, because no one visits their grave, the grave markers are easily overgrown. When we visited in ‘15, it was our daughter who discovered their marker.
I had printed a cemetery map when I was planning my trip. Even with the map and the notes from the telephone call, but I couldn’t locate their grave marker. So, I went to the cemetery office and asked for help. A very helpful woman provided me with a much more detailed map of the area where my grandparents were buried, and I returned to their gravesite. Armed with better information, I was able to locate the grave marker within minutes of returning.
As before, their marker was overgrown, and the family name was barely visible. I pulled at the grass and weeds and scraped at the matted dried grass from trimmings and mowing. I washed the grave marker as best I could.
I am the only one who has visited the grave from the family.
That’s one of my greatest fears about death, that no one will visit, and that the memory of my time will fade and be covered up.
I wanted to share the moment with my brothers, and I called them via a FaceTime call so we could all see and hear where our grandparents lay at rest. When my grandfather died, I was nine, Warren was eight, and David was six. With my call, they were able to see the gravesite and the cemetery.
We talked about our memories and what we had been told about their lives trying to put the pieces together.
After our grandfather died, my parents divorced, and we rarely saw my grandmother. She visited twice before I went to college. My life is full of regret of things I wish I had done or done better. One of them is not knowing my grandparents better. My grandmother passed away on Christmas Eve 2006 and her cremains are interred with her husband, my grandfather.
Family is complicated.
On the way out of town, I made one last stop. I drove to the home where they lived. My grandmother sold the home and moved into assisted living facility in the mid-nineties.
The house was as only a nine-year-old’s memory would remember. A two-level home on a hill with a garage and a small basement with a steep hill in the backyard. There were two cars parked in the driveway and I am positive it’s a great home.
Family is complicated.
It is Sunday and the seventeenth of July. Today has already been an amazing day and the second half of the day promises to be a million and six times better, but only if I jump up, jump in, and seize the day. Making the Days Count, one day a time, going back in time to go forward.
How does your day look going forward?