Remembering Nolie the First

Monday, February 17, 2020

Traditionally, February 17th has been a hard day for me, though it has gotten easier as I've gotten older. Today marks 25 years without my grandpa, Noel.

He was probably my first best friend. I lived with my grandparents briefly when I was younger, and he did everything he could to make sure I enjoyed my time with them. My grandma always said he was wrapped around my finger.

He was born in Kentucky in 1921 (it's crazy that he'd be turning 99 this year!), but moved from Appalachia to Indiana when he was little. He had several siblings, but I'm not sure if I ever met them all (I can specifically remember meeting his two brothers and one of his sisters); his parents had both died even before my mom was born. He served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, where he was stationed in Manduria, Italy.

Oddly (or maybe not), most of my memories of him involve food. He would often take me to Frisch's for breakfast, and he would get me Lunchables that came with Andes mints. He loved circus peanuts, and always kept them in the freezer. He would make me a snack of canned peaches topped with half and half (still my favorite way to eat peaches, though I usually just use milk). But most vividly, we would often go to McDonald's for lunch. I'd eat chicken nuggets dipped in honey (I still do this sometimes when I'm missing him!), and after, I'd play on the outdoor playground while he sat on the bench and whittled woodchips.

When I lived with them, my grandma and I shared their bed, and my grandpa would sleep in his recliner. Every day when I'd wake up, I'd hide behind the wall and try to scare him by yelling, "BOO!" until I finally popped out and revealed myself, and bless his heart, he always pretended to be surprised. He loved to garden, and he would let me help. I specifically remember going strawberries, rhubarb (which he made into pies), and cherry tomatoes.

Losing him was my first major experience with death. My stepmom had picked me up from school that day, which was extremely unusual, and she took me over to my grandparents' apartment, which was even more unusual. They broke the news to me, but I kept insisting they were lying. Once I finally accepted it, I legitimately don't think there has been a time in my life when I cried more. At the viewing, they let me have time alone with him, which was actually a little traumatizing. Seeing his bloated body and feeling how cold his hand was kind of set the tone for how uncomfortable I feel in funeral homes to this day (I would always volunteer to watch the little ones in the family lounge as I grew up). I wasn't allowed to attend the burial.

His death was really hard on me for a really long time. I actually believe it was the catalyst for my depression. A month or so after he died, I was doing a papier mâché project at school (I was in first grade) when I found his obituary in one of the newspapers and ran out of the room crying. For the next several years, just thinking about him reduced me to tears.

Much like my grandma, I wish he could have met the boys. He lives on through them now, since Jeffery's middle name is Noel. My grandpa's nickname had been Nolie, and that's what we call Jeffery too.

I hope that if Jeffery ever had grandkids, they have as strong of a bond as my grandpa and I did.

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