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"Just be who you are, calm and clear and bright." - Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

Goodnight, Johnny Starr

I have put off writing this post for four weeks, because clicking “publish” on a blog post is a public announcement that one more person who loved me is gone from this world. It’s selfish to grieve for that reason, but I don’t care. He loved us for how we made him feel, too. And I could not possibly have felt any more loved.

On Friday, August 11th, my sweet, affectionate, hilarious grandfather ate lunch (at the rehab facility we hoped he’d soon be getting out of), closed his eyes for a nap, and did not wake up again.

 

In the six months since our grandmother passed, he told us often that he was ready to go. That he could have suffered a heart attack in the middle of the night, slumped on the bathroom floor for who knows how long before his aide found him in the morning, just goes to show you how tough he was. At 92, for crying out loud!

On my last visit home before he died, I gave him a hand massage (when Kate and I were visiting together we’d do both hands at once) and, for the first time, asked if he’d like me to massage his feet as well. It makes me sad how embarrassed elderly people can be about the state of their toenails—who cares, right? you’ve been using the same pair of feet for how many decades?!—but he wanted a footrub too much to demur.

I was just about finished the first foot when his lunch arrived, and afterward he was drowsy so I let him sleep and promised I’d do his other foot the next day.

The next day, he slept all through my visit.

The day after that, I met my aunt and uncle at the rehab facility, and he napped through that visit, too, except he did this weird thing where he’d respond to people talking in the hall. “You don’t mind if I sleep, do you? I’m sorry,” he said at one point when he realized we were there, and we told him not to apologize, he could sleep all he wanted.

As we left I gave him a kiss on the forehead, and that was that. I never got to finish his footrub.

 

He loved helping me wind my yarn because he used to do the same for his mother, who was pretty much a genius with a crochet hook.

 

I’d totally forgotten how he’d twist a cloth napkin into the shape of a bird and make it look like it was darting out of his hand, so I was delighted all over again browsing through iPhoto just now.

 

The two most important things to know about my grandfather were his playfulness and his devotion. Even after he retired, he always worked too hard mowing and shoveling and whatnot—he literally had a heart attack and lost consciousness in the garage one hot summer day. And when my grandmother became ill, he remembered his wedding vows. No matter what, he was not going to let her go into a nursing home. He took care of her—with help from home health aides most days—every single day for the rest of her life.

 

 

My grandparents weren’t up for attending Kate and Elliot’s wedding back in February, but I recorded a mini-interview with them that we could play at the rehearsal dinner.

Me: What do you think of Elliot?
Grandmom: Oh, I think he’s fantastic. Nobody better than him.
Me: Nobody better than him, right?
Grandmom: That’s right. He’s the best.
Me: The best of all men!
Grandmom: The men of all men! That’s right.
Me: I know another great man. A good husband! What do you think about Elliot?
Grandpop: [through a mouthful of dinner] I think he’s a very nice felshon. I’m in love with him!

I just think it is so adorable that he couldn’t decide between “fellow” and “person” so he went with the portmanteau.

 

At the Petty Magic launch party, October 2010.

 

Summer 1984.

A post shared by Camille DeAngelis (@cometparty) on

My aunt Kathy (who has done an AMAZING job of juggling finances and healthcare headaches for the past four years, bless her soul!) told me not too long ago that my grandfather’s definition of success was to be able to save enough money to leave an inheritance to his children. By that measure (and others), he was absolutely a success. When I called him he sometimes used to say, “Didja make any money for me today?”, which used to irritate me when I was out of print and flat-out broke, but eventually I realized I needed to lighten the hell up. So when he’d say, “Didja make any money for me today?”, I’d reply, “Oh, yes. Potloads of money. Tomorrow I’m going to send you a check for a million dollars.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about all that these past four weeks: what a good worker and saver he was, how devoted he was to the people he loved. I’ve been clinging to the notion that the best way to honor him right now is to work as hard as I can—and when I get paid for that work, to put a good bit of it aside for something bigger than my own keeping.

My grandfather showed me how to be a good-hearted human. So I will work hard. I will remember to laugh at myself. And I will always show my family how much I love them.

 

Summer 1997 (I think?)

 

(See also: Hat for a Wise Man; Pizzelles!The Big Sixty; In Memoriam.)

 

4 Comments to Goodnight, Johnny Starr

  1. Kate's Gravatar Kate
    September 9, 2017 at 12:21 am | Permalink

    He was so fabulously silly! He was an inspiration with his work ethic and devotion. I miss him so much!

    FYI he always spelled it Starr 💫

  2. Neil's Gravatar Neil
    September 9, 2017 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    He’s going to be proud of whatever you do.

  3. September 11, 2017 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    Camille, what a beautiful tribute to your grandfather. Reading it brought back memories of my own grandfather and what a joy he was in my life. Sending you light and love. Remember, he is always by your side, even now. Our loved ones always are. xx

  4. Giavanni's Gravatar Giavanni
    September 21, 2017 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    I just came by to get your url for an email introduction and now i’m sitting here crying after reading that eulogy!

    LOVE to you LOVE!

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Hi! I'm Camille. I only write stories that could never ever happen in real life, though I do believe in real-life magic. If we were in the same room I'd fix you a cup of tea, but for now we'll have to settle for a virtual connection. I'm really glad you're here.