Grandaddy Paul died today.
Paul Charles Gauger: my father's father, the Gauger patriarch and my little brother's namesake. NASA engineer. Science Fiction fan. Golfer. Model plane builder. Sports car collector. Electric blue eyes and a face that reminded one of Jimmy Stewart. Nearly deaf, but soft-spoken. Delicate white hair, almost a full head of it at 87 or so.
Doddy called from the Florida nursing home, his voice pitched in the melodic tones he uses for illnesses, deaths and divorces. He had bad news. He could have stopped there; I knew why he went to Florida. He wrote every few days, sending me pictures and anecdotes.
Granddaddy Paul (aka GDP) is in decline. Since I was here in February, he's gone from 170 lbs. to 140 lbs. He's now too weak to stand or sit up. His hands are too weak, numb and shaky for almost anything. His mind is mostly lucid, but his attention focus is now too low for him to enjoy reading, or a movie. He can only handle a few lines of conversation. It's all sad as hell.
If there is a positive side, it's that GDP is mostly comfortable and free of pain. He's still strong enough to show wit and appreciation to the nurses; they all like him. Yesterday he and I were watching this old Bette Davis/Charles Boyer black-and-white potboiler on the TV and following our old practice of supplying lines, subtitles and narration to the movie as it went along, and he was holding up his end pretty well: "Goddamn, here comes the king again, on your feet, peons," etc.
Grandaddy was from the kind of American family spotlighted in Lake Wobegon Days German immigrants with their own special brand of abusive normalcy. Or so I heard. He never spoke of them. Why he became an engineer. Why he loved model planes or fast cars. Why he loved Grandmommy June after Katherine Gauger died of breast cancer in her thirties. June is strange to the Gaugers, being a Georgian debutante and not an intellectual. I know nothing about his ancestors aside from the Gauger family tree he slavishly assembled years ago. Just lines punctuated by Augustuses and Elizabeths; Georges and Matthiases.
I wish Paul Charles had been more of an exclamation point to me, and less of a comma. I miss him, but I also miss the days we didn't spend flying airplanes together or discussing family history. I miss never going to him for advice, and not running into the room to tell him my triumphs. It's worse that I was literally on the other side of the country when I may have needed him. It's not what I lost, but what I never had.
Maybe I will have the opportunity to be Grandmommy Eliza in person, instead of on the phone.