I always called him Umpa, though -- not Grandpa. That all started because my older brother, Todd, couldn't pronounce "Grandpa" when he was little. He said "Umpa" instead. And so the tradition of calling my grandpa "Umpa" was born.
Umpa died almost 9 years ago.
I've only visited his grave site once since the day the whole family gathered around to see his casket lowered into the grave. I always meant to go more because Umpa and I had a special connection. And I do miss him terribly.
You see, Umpa loved my spunk -- and that I was simply different than all of his other grandkids. He encouraged that independent spirit and spark in me. Umpa teased ALL of us grandkids. One of his favorite things to do was snitch a dinner roll off my plate when I wasn't looking. "Hey, you stole my roll!" I'd say, glaring at him. He'd always deny he had anything to do with my roll's disappearance. Then, I'd point. "It's right on your lap!!!" Umpa would let out his raspy laugh (the result of decades of smoking) and smile at me.
He also loved to tease me about spiders on the ceiling. "Look, Laurel! There's a spider!" I fell for that one the first few times, then learned that Umpa was just pulling my leg! He loved to tease all of us like that.
But my favorite memory of all is when I had a loose tooth. Observing me wiggling it, Umpa said, "I can take care of that loose tooth for you, Laurel. I've got big pliers in my garage, and I'll pull it right out!" "Okay," I said. Umpa stood, and I followed him out to the garage. He made a great show of rummaging through his toolbox and then brought forth a huge, rusty pair of pliers. "Open up!" he said, opening and closing the pliers "menacingly" as he stepped nearer to me. I simply dropped my mouth open. I knew Umpa would never hurt me! He came all the way up to my mouth with the pliers, then lowered them. Laughing, he placed the pliers back in the toolbox and we walked back indoors together.
In his later years, I would usually find Umpa sitting in his big recliner, watching Judge Judy and teasing their little white dog. (They named her Ginger.) "Ging!" he'd say, pointing out the window. "Squirrel! Look! Do you see it?" Whether there really was one of those furry creatures outside or not, Umpa's teasing never ceased to get Ginger all riled up and eager to get outside!
Dave and I talked about these memories and others as we stood by Umpa's graveside.