Peter Kwong | Wok & Roll

Peter Kwong | Columnist
Memories of Grandpa
Guess what I did for my birthday this year? Went to a funeral – yes, a funeral. Thank goodness it wasn’t my own. It was my wife’s father, whom I have followed how all the grandkids called him "Grandpa.” Didn’t feel right calling him dad, as I already have my Chinese father and my American dad; so Grandpa it was, the whole time. He always responded with an enthusiastic smile.
Paul Harold Zimmerman was a simple and wonderful man. Starting the family with his wife, Clarice, many years ago, they ended up with five children, and then the children’s spouses, and next came the grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I won’t even dare to add them up as I’ve never been good with math. Let’s just say that the Zimmerman family is a large family. Grandpa and Grandma should be very pleased and proud!
There is an old Chinese saying that "giving birth, getting old, being sick and dying” are the different paths that we must pass in our life’s journey; and I am sure that Grandpa’s journey was most rewarding. I didn’t know him well, but we got closer and closer each time we saw each other. I love to cook and he loved my cooking. Yes, we bonded through food. When I moved in with my wife (who lived in Whitewater then, an hour west of Milwaukee) after we got married, our house was only two blocks down from theirs. Naturally we would invite them to come over for dinner on Sunday evenings. Little did I know that it would become a tradition. No need for invitation, every Sunday at 4 p.m. Grandpa would promptly show up with Grandma. I loved to cook, and they loved to eat. Life was good!
Because of our jobs, we decided to move back to Milwaukee. Not long after, Grandma Clarice passed away, after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. Grandpa was all alone. It was then that we asked him to come to Milwaukee on weekends and join us. He did, and that would become another tradition. Instead of calling us ahead of time, asking if it was OK for him to come and visit, he would just call us and let us know when to expect him for his visit.
I love to sing, especially Spanish love songs, just so romantic. Even if I don’t know the meaning of the words, I can sing all the songs in Spanish. I have gathered many friends (amigos y amigas) who like to play guitar and sing along with me. Music is a universal language, believe it. We would gather quite often – to sing, to eat and to laugh (with a lot of tequila toasts, of course). Grandpa would join us in all our gatherings. He was known as "Pablo.” For some strange reasons, even though he didn’t speak any Spanish, he would be chatting with someone who spoke little English. And they would be laughing hysterically together! It must be a gift – a gift that he could blend in with everyone and anyone. It would take a genuine soul who loved and cared for other people to do that; and that was the Grandpa that I knew.
Grandpa joined the Army at the end of the war. He never went to battle as the war ended before deployment. But he was very proud that he was indeed in the military service. Unable to live alone after Grandma passed, the family suggested that he should move to King Veterans Home, near Waupaca, which was closer to his son Ron, who resides in Stevens Point. It was a comforting thought, knowing that someone was close by if something drastic happened.
For six years, he lived happily at the veterans home. First, being a sociable person, he had lots of friends to chat with. Also, he enjoyed a job at the home, working with postal duties. He liked to be active and involved and he kept busy with crossword puzzles. He liked to contribute in helping others; a definite giver. We visited him as often as we could. He liked to eat out at different restaurants as he wasn’t too fond of "hospital food” (who is?). Then one day, he just announced that he would rather stay in the home rather than go anywhere. We knew that he was running out of time then.
A month ago, we got a call from the home that Grandpa was not doing well, maybe the family should be there to check on him. Family members from all over rushed to the home as fast as they could; and we are glad that we did have a chance to say goodbye to him one last time.
He was buried in a veterans cemetery, with full military honors given. It was raining that day, maybe the angels were sharing the sadness of losing a good man. I was most touched when Dalton, the younger son of Rhonda, the youngest daughter of the five siblings, read this poem. It is titled, "Not, how did he die, but how did he live?”
"Not how did he die, but how did he live?
Not what did he gain, but what did he give?
These are the units to measure the worth
Of a man as a man, regardless of his birth.
Nor what was his church, nor what was his creed?
But had he befriended those really in need?
Was he ever ready, with words of good cheer,
To bring back a smile, to banish a tear?
Not what did the sketch in the newspaper say,
But how many were sorry when he passed away!
Though Grandpa is gone, he will always be in our hearts. We’ll meet again someday, hopefully not too soon. He just started another journey with another beginning. But I know that he will be the same Grandpa, providing comfort, laughter and love to whoever crosses his path. Farewell, and have a safe journey.
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