Thursday, October 20, 2011

My Father Figures: Howard Vawters, Sr.


Have you ever sat down to write something but the enormity of it froze you in your tracks? That's how I am feeling right now writing this post about my Grandpa. He was and will forever be one of the most important people in my life. We were a very tight knit extended family and from as early as I can remember got together for any occasion, no matter how small. It was well known among everyone that I was Grandpa's favorite. He was mine, too.

I went fishing with him. And camping. He taught me my first piano lessons. I would go to his house often just to visit with him and Grandma. Grandma and Grandpa were interwoven into each other, having known each other since grandma was 5 years old. They were second parents to me, just not quite as strict as my mom.


He had many jobs during his life, including administrative positions, teaching at a local community college, tuning pianos on the side, working as a security guard, the list goes on. To me, he will always be tuning a piano (or playing one, songs like "Fascination" and other standards; he loved to play his piano, which now sits in my living room) and a cool college professor who talked to his psychology students about metaphysics.


Metaphysics. He was a Rosicrucian who had passed all but the highest level. He believed in all ghosts and aliens and telekinesis and claimed to have astrally projected to another country. But then, he believed every cover of The Weekly World News and Enquirer as if they were The New York Times. He truly believed in Bat Boy - really, I'm not kidding (which astounded us as he was an educated man and an educator). When I was a kid, all of this was Amazing to me; now that I'm older it just adds to his character, which was larger than life.

I've yet to meet someone who could talk more than him. And he had an opinion on everything. And he was gonna tell it to you. I have to tell you, there were areas where his prejudice would arise and times when he would talk and you wondered what the heck he was talking about. He wasn't perfect, and he didn't know everything he thought he did (even though he was a highly intelligent man), but I loved him just the same.


I don't even know how to put into words how much I loved him. He was a kindred soul, someone who seemed to understand me and was every bit as quirky and eccentric as I was, just in other ways. He could be very cranky and mean at times, but I couldn't imagine him not being there, with his astounding stories or huge pronouncements, and just being able to sit and watch him, be in his presence.


He was a lifelong pipe smoker, started in WWII when he was barely out of his teens. And he was never more belligerent than when someone told him that smoking his pipe wasn't good for him. That pipe was a part of him (we all have one of his pipes now - I smell mine quite a bit to remember him). In the end, he got lung cancer that metastasized everywhere in his body including his brain. In his final few months, he became befuddled, argumentative to an extreme; it was like all of the worst traits that he has magnified. And then there were moments when he was himself, claiming that with herbs and right living he would get rid of the cancer.

But he didn't. He was put in hospice at the same time I was in the hospital having William. I always pictured that I would be buy his bedside in his final hours, but I was on absolute bed rest and had a preemie and there was no way for me to get to him. And he was at most 2 blocks away from me, which stung even more. One of the greatest pains of my life is that he never was able to see William and I wasn't able to tell him goodbye in his final hours. To have just held his hand one more time . . .


He knew that I was going to give William his name as a middle name and as he was dying, shortly after I had Will, he asked my cousin if I really had given him the name Howard. She told me that when she told him yes he smiled and seemed calmer.

And when I talk to William about his name, I tell him daddy picked out William, but Howard came from my grandpa, someone who I still love almost as much as I love him.


Bruce Sallan said...

Beautiful tribute to a beautiful man!

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Andi said...

I really love this stroy. It was a much needed post. My perfect/imperfect Grandfather just passed and I though the world of him. I could not even begin to put all that he was to me into words, so I found it comforting to be able to read yours. Well done, you, that was wonderful! Thank you for sharing.

Beard said...

Sounds like your grandpa was salt and light in your world. And the pic of you two with the flowers in front looks like you are both wearing hula skirts. ;-)

@hospitalityfan said...

Sincerely beautiful writing and could my own experiences welling up but wanting to continue to read. What a story to be shared with your son (William Howard) forever. Happy that you got to have a grandfather like him to share such stories. Have a beautiful weekend!

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