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William Hopper - Sing With Me If It's Just For Today... — LiveJournal
If I should fall behind, Guyster, wait for me.
William Hopper
Grandpa William Hopper lived a good life. He fathered four children who brought him four grandchildren, five great-grandchildren, and four great-great grandchildren. It’s quite a legacy Mr. Hopper left behind in his passing after ninety-four years, quietly waiting for all of his family to leave the nursing home, to go it alone. His beloved Winona passed away in 1974. They were married in the small town of St. Elmo, a sweet little spit surrounded by the rolling soy fields, a water tower standing guard over the main street where the IGA and a hardware store dominate. Their wedding took place on the very same day as Charlie’s birthday, one of their eventual grandchildren who would be killed by a train at the age of fourteen. Charlie was Billy’s older brother, rock solid and ripped away.

Grandpa never remarried, told people he didn’t need to. His kids would frequently visit in the immediate years after their mother’s death but they’d swing by less and less until Grandpa was lucky to see them once or twice a month. Some of the grandkids left town, Billy joined the Navy, another granddaughter turning hard and cruel. The two-story wood shingled house, the center of the family for fifty odd years, sits a few blocks away from the IGA. It had fallen into disrepair after Grandpa went to live in the nursing home, the place where the townspeople would eventually move. It was around the time Billy was best man at his nephew’s wedding that Billy spent two extra weeks in St. Elmo, fixing up the house, nudging it back to its form. Billy was too modest to tell me that Grandpa had told him he was his favorite grandson but I coaxed it out of him. He blushed when he said it.

Billy came back to Los Angeles with a plan: Why don’t we move to St. Elmo and live in Grandpa’s house? I sneered at the notion -- me living in a town that small. What the hell would I do there? Work at the IGA? The subject was dropped as quickly as Billy’s enthusiasm but he’d bring it up every so often, when things got bad there in Los Angeles, the hardness of the big city enveloping him in bad influences. One time he almost begged me. St. Elmo was his escape hatch, the place where a small town boy could go when times got too tough as a city man. “Yeah, that’s it Billy. I’m going to give up a career that I’ve spent years building to move there.” I just shook my head and changed the subject.

I first met Grandpa when Billy and I were driving across the country. He was a bear of a man, even in the convalescent surroundings. He gave me a mighty handshake, didn’t try to figure out how I factored into Billy’s life, and the three of us talked for a good country hour. I went to visit him again last year at Thanksgiving, the handshake weaker but his eyes still had the mischief of his grandson’s gleam. I’d heard from the family that Grandpa was getting sicker with the cancer over the past year. I selfishly hoped I’d get to see him one last time before he left. He was in pain, though, the morphine drip barely masking it. He wanted to go home to see his Winona.

Last year while roaming the streets of St. Elmo, I heard Billy’s plea like a distant train moving through. I looked up at the name of the town painted proudly across it’s egg-shaped water tower, wondering how life would have been like if I’d taken Billy up on his offer. I know it would have been better, if for no other reason than Billy would still be here. We would have gone to Grandpa’s funeral together, some tongues tsking at our relationship, and we’d have laughed it off. All that city junk would have been far, far away, too distant to do its damage.

When I heard the news of Grandpa passing away on Monday morning, the message left on my voicemail, I called Bub asking what I could do. “Nothing you can do,” he said. I called the nearest big city, Effingham, found a florist, ordered a wreath with the banner Grandpa across it.

“What do you want on the card?” the woman asked.

“Have it read ‘Your grandson, Billy, loves you very, very much.’” That surely was no lie.

13 comments or Leave a comment
fabulist From: fabulist Date: October 8th, 2004 08:32 am (UTC) (Link)
You did take him up on his offer, but it's the St. Elmo inside you that you found, not the prosaic town that's out there in the "real" world, so far from anything you know or understand. It's the inside places that matter, though, and the people that live there, forever, in our hearts.

I'm sure the card's just a confirmation of something Grandpa Hopper knew all along.
guysterrules From: guysterrules Date: October 8th, 2004 03:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
It really is a sweet little burg, simple and handsome, just like someone I love.
quuf From: quuf Date: October 8th, 2004 09:11 am (UTC) (Link)
I agree with Joe, T. We all have a little place in the country, real or imagined, that we keep in reserve for those times when city life gets to be too much. City creature that you are -- I think -- you would have been lost in a place where it's impossible to get lost.
guysterrules From: guysterrules Date: October 8th, 2004 03:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
You're right, Q. I would have gone stir crazy, at first. There's this thing, though, this monster that won't leave me alone, reminding me that moving there, taking Bily seriously for a moment about his needs, would be yet another way I could have saved him.
cricketshay From: cricketshay Date: October 8th, 2004 10:38 am (UTC) (Link)
I was going to write something similar to Joe. But he beat me to it and said it much better than I ever could. *hugs*
guysterrules From: guysterrules Date: October 8th, 2004 03:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've learned to never let Joe speak for me. Heed my warning, fair maiden.
From: inkprincess Date: October 8th, 2004 11:31 am (UTC) (Link)
aww, i'm sorry. :( bet there's a grand family reunion going on up in heaven now!
guysterrules From: guysterrules Date: October 8th, 2004 03:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
I know you're right about that, K.!
bitbear From: bitbear Date: October 8th, 2004 01:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
The timeliness of your post is like smack upside the head.

As I plan on seeing Gramps tomorrow, the similarities between Gramps and Billy's Grandpa are many. And St. Elmo sounds like Hancock.

Going to see Gramps in the nursing home is both rewarding and depressing. As an infant and a boy, he showed me nothing but love and kindness. As a man, I took part in displacing him from the home he had known for over 30 years, and all that he had left.

It still wears on me.

I'm glad you have good memories of Grandpa Hopper.
guysterrules From: guysterrules Date: October 8th, 2004 03:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
I thought of the parallels when I read your post today. Sounds like you and your Gramps have a great bond. You know he's going to love seeing you.
privatesector From: privatesector Date: October 9th, 2004 03:17 am (UTC) (Link)
Your posting made me want to cry since I not only appreciated your response to his passing but I have a 98 year old Grandmother whom I need to see SOON. I've been tethered to my housing situations the past several months and she's not exactly around the corner, but your posting sure put life into perspective. Thank you.
ubermunkey From: ubermunkey Date: October 11th, 2004 08:21 am (UTC) (Link)
great post Guyster
but on the subject of you could have or should have or maybe or what if...
well you have got to find a way to let that rest. what is, is. I am fighting this in a big way with the Elli situation, so much so that I am considering counselling again. could have would have and should have, have a strangle hold on me that is deadening. I hope that this makes some sense.

be well
guysterrules From: guysterrules Date: October 11th, 2004 02:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks, Connor. Unfortunately it makes too much sense. I know. But sometimes it just doesn't stop a case of the what ifs.
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