This past spring my paternal grandpa, Herb, was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. Like many pancreatic cancers, his had spread widely without any symptoms. No one thought anything was wrong until his skin turned yellow. We were told he would die within the next few months to a year. His health is holding up well so far, but he has had to make funeral arrangements, cremation plans, and prepare for my grandma’s future as a widow.
My paternal grandparents are two of the coolest people I know. Not just cool for people I know over 50, but seriously awesome. For example, when they retired about twelve years ago, they didn’t choose to continue living in small-town Brookings, South Dakota, nor did they follow the trend of many retirees of moving to Arizona or Florida. I’m sure they would have been happy following either of those paths, but they chose their own by moving to a condo in downtown Minneapolis. They wanted to be able to experience all the cultural opportunities of a big city – the international foods, orchestra, plays, jazz festivals, arts shows, and any other happenings.“Your grandparents retired to downtown Minneapolis?” my friends will ask in disbelief. “Yeah,” I say smiling with pride, “They are such hipsters.”
My grandparents taught me many things, but one of the most ingrained lessons I learned was to try new things, especially to try new food, travel to new places, read new books, and explore new ideas. My grandparents were the first people to bring me to Chino Latino, the edgy bar and restaurant in Uptown Minneapolis. I remember feeling so mature as I sipped my pineapple drink, served in an actual pineapple, sitting among the flickering candlelight. My brother and I were the youngest people in the restaurant, and my grandparents by far the oldest, but they wanted in on the latest cuisine trend and were kind enough to share the experience with their grandchildren.
As a political science professor, and eventually the Dean of Arts & Science, at South Dakota State University, my grandpa believed in teaching his students how to think, not what to think. He was also active in politics, working with George McGovern, serving as the state and county Democratic Party Chairperson, and running two successful gubernatorial campaigns.
My grandparents are great role models to me for loving others and honoring them. In the 1970’s, my grandparents’good friends Kent and Jim came out to their friends as a gay couple. While many of their friends turned their backs on Kent and Jim, Grandpa and Grandma continued to value their friendship, and have continued to visit them yearly to this day. It would be easy for my grandparents to get stuck in the social norms of when they grew up, but they seem unfazed by anything. Gay men walking around Loring Park in speedos for the gay pride parade? Let’s go. Granddaughter just got a big tattoo of a tree on her back? Okay. Republican convention held in downtown? At least it’s interesting.