I’m heartbroken to share the news that my Grandpa Gil passed away early last week, on July 30th just as the sun was rising. He was at home, surrounded by his wife, family, love and his beloved 17-year-old cat Lyle and I must say, as devastating as it was, how lucky we all should be to live a life as full as his, that should come to an end so peacefully at home with the Frank Sinatra Sirius satellite radio station playing us out to wherever we’re headed next. He’d been in hospice for a week, and my younger brother Bill and I were fortunate enough to be able to go home in time to spend a long weekend with him, which I will treasure forever.
I waited until today to write about it because last week was simply too sad, but also because today would have been his 63rd wedding anniversary with my Grandma Marilyn. So, it felt appropriate for my wedding blog, to celebrate his life by telling you about the most important part of it: His marriage to my grandma. They are, and will always be, an inspiration, and also a reminder that it’s not the wedding that’s important, it’s the life you build together afterward.
My grandma and her dad.
My grandma grew up on the slopes of the highest mountain in Panama, where her father had a coffee finca before they moved to the Canal Zone, where her father then worked at Panama Canal Company. My grandpa was a southern gentleman from North Carolina who, as a First Lieutenant in the Finance Department, was stationed in Panama. He worked with my grandma’s mother and when he heard she had a blonde daughter visiting home from college at Tufts University, told her it had been too long since he’d had a home-cooked meal and angled for an invitation to dinner. He got one.
The church where they got married.
On August 4, 1951, they were married at the Lutheran church in Balboa, Canal Zone and their reception was at the glamorous Hotel Tivoli, the only hotel on the Pacific side. My grandma was 19 and my grandpa was 24.
My grandma had the right perspective on weddings (and it was good for me, living in the Era of the Bridezilla, to talk to her about it)… She wasn’t all too concerned with the wedding, she just wanted to be married to my grandpa. I asked her where her dress is now, and she looked at me like I had two heads; she purchased it off the rack at Filene’s in Boston, her younger sister later wore it for her own wedding, and no one can remember what happened to it after that. It was just a dress, after all.
But, she does remember how handsome my grandpa looked in his white jacket, and that they served champagne flown in by her mother’s military attaché friend in Chile, and that they spent their honeymoon at the Washington Hotel on the Atlantic side of the Canal Zone, where the President of Argentina was staying in exile at the time. Her parents gave them a black cocker spaniel named Tootsie as a wedding gift.
And did they ever love each other. My grandma moved to the States for my grandpa, and my grandpa resigned from his partnership in Jack in the Box back when it was justa handful of restaurants, so they could move to Boston for my grandma to go to Harvard, at a time when not that many women were going to Harvard.
They had two daughters, two sons-in-law and two grandchildren they loved deeply, and countless pets they, perhaps, loved most of all. (I come from a family of animal lovers; my Grandpa Gil got to meet Maggie over Easter, and was the biggest supporter of the decision to keep her.)
With my grandma’s parents.
Most of my memories of him are accompanied by Glenn Miller or the Sweet and Lowdown movie soundtrack. He loved jazz, Lucho Azcárraga and Big Band music. He read Leonard Maltin’s movie review books from cover to cover and adored classic films (especially the ones starring Jane Russell), and he’d make weekly trips to the library to borrow them. He recently watched It’s A Wonderful Life, and especially loved the guardian angel Clarence, which my family takes comfort in, and the idea that he is now an angel for us.
A product of the Depression, he loved to take my grandma on dates to Costco, where they’d peruse the aisles while dining on samples. Sometimes, on special occasions, they’d splurge and catch a movie on the big screen and treat themselves to In-N-Out. He saved nearly every newspaper and magazine he ever bought, carefully folded and stored. His favorite foods were North Carolina barbecue, Cheerwine soda (bottled in Salisbury), ambrosia and chardonnay on ice.
He was born in Salisbury, North Carolina, raised by a single mother and his doting grandmother (who had 11 children of her own!), and they called him “Sunny,” for his sunny disposition. He was an accountant, although he always dreamed of being a forest ranger (despite not liking camping or hiking.) He saw active combat in the navy in the Pacific in WWII and served in Panama and Virginia during the Korean war. My mom wants everyone to know, “He hangs an American flag with the deepest respect, emotion and understanding of the sacrifice, service, loyalty, patriotism and bravery made by his fellow servicemen and women throughout our history.” He was a member of the Jamestown Society, his ancestors traced back to the original European settlers of the United States.
He had the thickest southern drawl and his pet name for all loved ones was “my honey,” which sounded like “money” the way he pronounced it. “He taught his daughters to drive and shoot and dance and play poker, believing they were useful skills for primary school-aged children,” my mom loves to recall. He never met a stranger, and any and all stray animals became a family member. At the party for their 50th wedding anniversary, he toasted the love of his life… Curly, their rescue poodle. He looked forward to seeing Tootsie, Curly, Chewy, Tober, Susie, Jack, Moses, Shadow, Powder Puff, and Toni (the cat, not my fiance), Calico, Coco, Zorro, Joey, Spike, Freddy, Liza, Mama Kitty, Mitty the Kitty and countless others in heaven, and his wish was to be buried with the ashes of all his pets, so he wouldn’t be alone (my mom and aunt are currently inquiring to see if that is possible/legal.)
A proud veteran, he’ll have a military funeral at the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery next Monday. He lived and loved fully, and he was loved deeply; I can’t imagine life without him. I love you, Grandpa Gil, and know you’re swaying to Moonlight Serenade in heaven, a glass of iced white wine in hand, to celebrate your anniversary today. We miss you so much.