My Opa

by - 9:34 AM

When I was a little girl, I had a pretty simple routine. Wake up, eat my ABCs cereal and then, go forth with the day and all the very important activities, games and pretend, I had planned in my little imagination.

I played with Barbies in the attic while my Oma sat a few feet away from me a the sewing machine. The whirrrrr of the pulsing needle, up and down, and a soft yellow light  are as ingrained in my memory as my first name or my birthday.  If I were feeling particularly productive, I might sit at the kitchen counter and play office, shuffling piles of mail and picking up the old phone in the corner at random and answering to the dial tone authoritatively, "heywo, thwis is Bwennifer." I remember sitting between my Oma's knees while she pulled a brush through my hair and curled ringlets around her fingers. In the afternoon, I laid on the floor next to her while she read chapter books to me and tried to get me to remember the Dutch words she repeated over and over again.

But then, hold-the-dang-phone, it didn't matter what time it was or what I was doing, when I heard the purr of my Opa's Volkswagon hit the driveway, and felt the way it shook the whole house as he coasted into the garage, it was go-time. I'd launch myself from wherever I was and hustle to the kitchen pantry. Clutching a glow-in-the-dark tooth brush (what!?) to keep away the monsters that naturally live in the dark, I'd park there, on top of bags of flour and tubs of oats, and wait until I heard his voice in the entry way. Then I'd push the pantry door open just an inch and howl, "Opaaaaaa! Come fiiiiiiind meeeeee!"

Day after freakin' day. Same hiding place every time.
And every single day, I'd giggle until my tummy ached as I heard him jogging down the stairs and stomping through the halls, always saying with confusion, "where is she? Where could she be?"

That is my first memory of my Opa.

Years later, when I was seventeen, he hopped in the passenger side of my Oma's car, just a calm as you please, and grinned at me while I clutched the steering wheel with white knuckles and he said, "alright. Let's teach you how to drive a stick." He put his hand on my knee, showed me the clutch, and pushed down. Of course, we immediately began coasting lazily down the driveway, and for the first of many times, I felt the shake of the car as he began stomping the imaginary brake pedal on the passenger side.

That summer, I endured a lot, with him beside me. We went for a drive every night after dinner and I struggled at the mercy of a manual transmission and an Opa who refused to switch positions with me, even as I stalled repeatedly at the 4-second left turn light on the corner of Kraft and 28th street. Horns honked and we sat there through three rotations before I finally figured out the careful balance of gas and clutch, and managed to floor it at break-neck speed around the corner while my Opa used every appendage to hang on. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw legs flailing and arms reaching for anything sturdy to take hold of -- that was him. I corrected the car and he readjusted himself. Then he calmly put on his seatbelt, pointedly looked in the rearview mirror and said without a quiver, "you left my transmission somewhere in the middle of that intersection."

And he made me drive the rest of the way home.

By the end of August, I could drop from fifth to second without a second. I could skip second altogether. I could haul around in a manual transmission like a boss.

But he never let me drive his car again.

On Monday evening, the sun was still shining in that wonderful golden glow that only comes right before the sun sets. It came hazily through the blinds in the bedroom and ignited perfectly the words that he told us -- I am going to meet my Lord.

My Opa died on Monday night. Peacefully, calmly, mercifully.
Nothing dramatic. Only the joyful passing of a son of God to the kingdom of Heaven.


I couldn't help but think about how much the world is changed because he was in it. An only child, he is a father of an empire, with children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, combined, literally inching towards the triple digits.

A master of his craft, he was an artist. He dreamed up buildings, put them on paper and designed landmarks  that will stand as a testament of his legacy, long after all of us have left as well.

A man who loved his wife. To the very last moment, she was the single most important thing on his mind.  Nearly 57 years of marriage passed between them. And years of friendship preceded that. A lifetime of knowing each other so well. I often believe that I chose the man I did, because of the man he was. I had expectations for how a man should treat a woman, how a man should respect a woman, and how a man should love a woman --- because of the way he treated, respected and loved, oh how he loved, my Oma.


I know I will never be able to write anything that will live up to the man he was --- it feels like such an impossibility to accurately say who he was and what he meant to me, and so, all I can say is this,

I loved him.

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  1. This is so beautiful Jennifer. Thank you for giving insight into the man Opa was. I wish I had known him when he was healthy.

  2. An awesome testament to an awesome man.