Today, I ache for heaven. I ache for restoration. I’m desperately dreaming of a day when all things will be made new. I’ve recognized “the ache” today because I still feel the pain of separation from my Grandpa Vischer, who went to heaven this summer.
Grandpa fills many of my thoughts and daydreams as I walk the streets of Jackson. Many of the older people I meet still remember him from Vischer Tire, a local retreading business that he ran with my uncles and dad. He was a salesman who could sell anything. He also was a father and a grandfather who prayed for everything. My cousin Cabot from California still jokes that Grandpa had “the red phone” to God. If Grandpa prayed for something, it happened. Some of the prayers he offered God on my behalf are still being answered.
In honor of my Grandpa Vischer, I would love to share “Bill Knapp’s,” the true short story that I read for my Grandpa’s funeral this summer…
When I was a kid, Bill Knapp’s was my favorite restaurant. More exciting destinations like Chuck E. Cheese or Mcdonald’s Playplaces took a backseat to the place where ninety nine percent of the customers were guaranteed to have a full head of gray hair. Somehow, arcade games and colorful plastic slides never had the appeal of the flowery wallpaper and food made from scratch.
Maybe I was just a weird kid, which is entirely possible. Or maybe going to Bill Knapp’s on a Sunday afternoon was less about the chocolate cake and ice cream that I’d devour at the end of the meal and more about who we went with- Grandpa & Grandma Vischer.
When I was eight or nine, I started to absorb the vast mythology of “the good old days,” when you could buy a couple pieces of candy for a penny and when neighbors and family members helped each other build houses, businesses, and gardens. Weird names like Aunt Grace, Aunt Bertha, Irv, Harvey and many others were permanently engraved in my mind through endless repetition. There were also names I’m still not sure I understand like Ducky, Tubby, and the Peewee Club.
When I was ten and desperately in love with my neighbor girl- she’s married now-, I started to pay more attention to the stories that Grandpa told about falling in love with Grandma. All the while, Grandma would half-smile and mutter, “Oh, Harold.” I knew inherently that they loved each other. Grandpa would burst with pride as he helped Grandma up the next step or into the car. His face and body language were like billboards that always announced, “I love Denell!”
Yesterday, I heard Aunt Debbie mention that when Grandma was sick in the bedroom, Grandpa would still have visitors and parties, and he would parade them into the bedroom to see Grandma. Even when Grandma was at her worst physically, all of Grandpa’s verbal and nonverbal actions always said, “Look, this is my wife, isn’t she beautiful?”
Sitting on the padded vinyl of the ninety’s purple booths in Bill Knapp’s, I remember consciously deciding one Sunday afternoon when I was eleven or twelve that I wanted my love story to be like Grandpa and Grandma’s. I still have nostalgic images that I’ve dreamed up of Grandpa in a high school hallway seeing Grandma, and whispering to a friend, “That’s the woman I want to have my children with” -or something like that. Or I see Grandpa and Grandma standing over a heat register, and Grandpa gazes deeply into her eyes and asks, “Denell, can I take you out of circulation?” With a passionate kiss and orchestral music in the background Grandma almost shouts, “Yes, yes, yes!” Interestingly I always picture Grandpa’s stories in black and white. I know the world wasn’t black and white back then, but somehow, it seems more… right, and those are the images I’ll stick with.
After Grandma went to heaven when I was thirteen, I continued to get caught up in the black and white motion picture mythology of Grandpa and Grandma’s love for each other. All through my years in high school, we would continue to meet with Grandpa at Bill Knapp’s. I would tell him that dancing and cardplaying were perfectly ok and that love at first sight was impossible. He heartily disagreed. I fell in love with Grandma at first sight!” he would exclaim unwaveringly to which I would reply, “You were attracted to her at first sight. Your love grew.” Shaking his head in protest, he would half laugh, “Boy oh boy, you young guys think you know it all, don’t you? You’ll know when it happens to you.”
Eventually Bill Knapp’s closed down and a cheap Chuck E. Cheesish type restaurant took its place, but every time I go by that building I’ll always imagine warm Sunday afternoons when I had the privilege of spending my hours with Grandpa and Grandma. They took time out of their busy schedules to drive up to Jackson and eat with us. Their love for each other is a black and white monument that has replayed in my mind every day since Grandpa passed.
As I entered the hospice, which is ironically right down the road from the old Bill Knapp’s, I sat at Grandpa’s bedside. For once in my life, I didn’t have much to say, but this is what I should’ve said, “Grandpa, I’m sorry that you didn’t get to meet my wife. I’m sorry you didn’t get to see my wedding, but someday when I do meet that girl and get married, I want you to know that your love for Grandma is the single biggest picture that will inspire me to sacrifice and love my wife as Christ loved the Church. You loved Grandma in a way that makes Hollywood love stories and fairy tale romances look as cheap as the Pizza Beach restaurant that’s replaced Bill Knapp’s. Grandpa, I love you. You are a great man. Someday, I hope I have a love story like yours. And maybe when that day comes, I’ll find out that love at first sight really does exist. I love you. Tell Grandma I love her too. Goodbye.”