I thought of my grandpa the other day as a baby bee brushed against my fingers.
Things fell apart the summer I turned 13. My grandpa fell trying to get out of bed in the morning and spent the summer in the hospital trying to walk again. It was the year after my brother Matt spent the summer in the hospital. My grandpa wasn’t the same after that. He was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease. Before he came home a wheelchair ramp was added and the bathroom was remodeled to accommodate a wheelchair. He never walked again.
Maybe that was the year things got harder for me. My grandma was one of Matt’s biggest caregivers and now she needed to take care of my grandpa. That put a lot of pressure on me and I stopped my social life before it really even started to help take care of my brother.
But before grandpa got sick, we had some good times together. He used to take me fishing. I must have talked his ear off because he told me I was scaring the fish away with my incessant chatter. Many years later I found out this wasn’t true.
We also had our occasional Saturday morning trips to the dump. Grandpa would back his truck into our driveway to pick up our garbage which wasn’t a lot since we had a burning barrel and a compost pile. My parents are hoarders, so only true garbage was thrown away like used cat litter. Although sometimes that was used in the winter on the ice. Everything had a use or purpose even when it didn’t. Some rooms of the house and even the garage were dedicated junk piles. It was one of the zillion reasons I didn’t have friends over often. Apparently most people seem to find hoarding off-putting.
But anyway, the trips to the dump with my grandpa were wonderful. He was friends with the dump man who was also a hoarder. I swear the guy would go through everyone’s garbage to find treasures to take home. There were bags of garbage everywhere, some were burning in a big pit.
The dump was sandy and smoky. It wasn’t a good place to be on a windy day. But when there wasn’t wind, there were bees. The dump man said I didn’t need to be afraid of the bees. He told me to put out my finger and the little bees would land on it. I did and they tickled my finger. Since then I’ve never been afraid of bees or wasps and they have never hurt me. Of all the things I am afraid of, I’m not generally afraid of animals. My dad was afraid of spiders so he never used them to terrify me. Win, win I guess.
My grandpa and I made several trips to the dump because we were looking for the perfect bike. The dump man started setting aside the bikes for us that others threw away. Then one day we found the perfect piece of junk. Grandpa lovingly painted it purple, my favorite color. He put on a new chain, new tires, and a new sparkly purple banana seat.
One day I outgrew the little one speed bike. My last birthday before grandpa got sick, he took me to the store to buy a bike kit so he could put a ten speed together for me. It meant a lot because he bought it new and also because he took me to the store to buy it. That was the first and last time I remember my grandpa going inside a public place. He refused to leave the house after he was wheelchair bound. We had to fight with him to go to the doctor when he needed to go. He didn’t even go to my wedding. He would even panic if grandma was gone for more than an hour or two.
So when I saw the little bee buzz by the other day, I put out my finger to say hello. It instantly took me back to the trips to the dump. How crazy to have the trips to the dump be one of my fondest childhood memories. I am thankful for that though. My younger brothers barely remember the good times with grandpa before he was in a wheelchair.