Tuesday, December 9, 2008

My Grandpa, the Cardinal.

Who's your hero? It's a question posed to people from kindergarten on up. The answers vary, and I admit when I hear an athlete say it's "his mom" I am immediately enamoured with him. That's the kind of stuff we strive for, us moms.

My hero, always and forever has been my maternal grandfather. My Gramps. Without delving too far into my past I can say that he was the first man in my life, the father figure I had before my dad adopted me, and the one who was center stage in my heart before he moved over a bit for my husband and kids. That's my gramps, always willing to step over a bit to share the limelight.

It's not just me that thinks so highly of him. Everybody loved Gramps. But everybody was not his special girl. That was me. I got flowers on Sweetest Day, (a made up Hallmark Holiday that has since fallen by the wayside in 17 years of marriage). He sent Valentines when I had received no others, pushed cash into my hand when I was leaving for a trip, or was just short on funds. He thought I was beautiful when everyone else thought I was a boy, he told me that someday the braces would pay off and I would knock the boys dead with my smile. He drove me 200 miles to retrieve my purse after I left it (for the millionth time) in an Arby's in Bay City. He called me every day to read me my horoscope. He sat at my baseball games when I was 8 and watched while I played into my 20's, pregnant with my firstborn, fretting the whole time. You get the picture. A Hero. My Hero.

I lost my Gramps to lung cancer in February, 1994. He lived long enough to dance with me at my wedding, watch me begin nursing school, and hold his first great grandchild. Those, he told me, were his goals. My goal was to survive without him, and somehow try to make him proud without having him to guide me, at least in an Earthly way.

Enter the Cardinal.

My Gramps liked birds. Not in a crazy, Audobon way, just liked them in general. He liked the Cardinals a lot. They always reminded me of him, too. Regal, strong, intelligent looking. A beautiful bird. I don't know anything more about them, if they're mean or steal all the food, like I said, he just liked them, so let's just run with this, OK?

After he died, I was sitting in my family room on a cold winter day, rocking my 8 month old son and wondering how he would ever know this great person whom I loved so dearly. It was shortly after he died, that time when you feel so raw and wounded and lost. It just plain hurt inside my heart.
Onto the tired little bird feeder we had outside the window landed a Cardinal. He looked in at me, and I at him. We stared at each other intently for what seemed like a long time. I knew. I just knew. My Gramps was that Cardinal. He was checking on me. He wanted me to know it was all good over there. I began to cry, and the Cardinal cocked his head. "Hey", I said, "I know it's you" . The Cardinal nodded. I said "I'll be OK". "Just come around every now and then, you know, when I need you most"? Another cock of the head. I tried "I love you" but my voice just cracked. The Cardinal puffed out his chest, and flew away. He flew to the fencepost, turned and looked at me again, and then flew high into the sky.

I wasn't sad then. I was peaceful, for the first time in a long time. I would have taken that one moment if that was all I had, but it wasn't. When I feel bad inside, when I am lonely or feeling like no one appreciates me, when I hate how I look or am racking up all the qualities I lack, I can guarantee you that at some point, the Cardinal shows up in my yard. I know it's him. I know that he is still there; my Hero. It's been a while since I have seen him, maybe even half a year, But this morning, as I was trying to breathe through the whole parking lot thing, worried about my child and struggling to get my attitude straight, I looked outside to see my Cardinal. He sat in the rain, on my gate, and looked at me. He always knows. My Hero.

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