Last month, we had the unfortunate need to travel for a funeral. My paternal Grandfather died at age 95. He was an accomplished PhD Biochemist and a pretty incredible guy. While the occasion was sad, it was a good chance to catch up with some family I'd not seen in a long, long time.
My Father and Sister and I all made our way to Rapid City, South Dakota on the 5th of August. While in Chicago, my Sister ran into my Aunt Carolyn and Cousin Jeff. Within 30 minutes of them arriving to Rapid City, my Father joined us, and we all headed into town to check into the hotel.
Just after we checked in, my Aunt Marylin came to lead us over to the hospice home where Grandpa was staying, just barely hanging on. He looked very weak, and with three of his four kids there, was able to rouse himself a little bit. We aren't sure if he really was aware of our presence, but he seemed to be.
The next morning, we went back to the home to find that he had passed away about a half-hour earlier. We're grateful that we'd seen him one last time the day before.
During funeral preparations, we learned a lot about our Grandfather, and my Dad and Aunts had a good time reminiscing about growing up during the 1950s. Stuff like how, when my Grandfather decided that he wanted to modernize the house, he and my Dad went up on the roof, and, using hand saws, sawed off the overhanging eaves. At one point, my Pop was filling his arms with boards to bring back to the top of the roof, when he began to lose his balance and teeter two stories above the backyard. Grandpa was too far away to grab him, and watched terrified as he almost fell. At the last second, Dad was able to fling himself forward and stay on the roof. Grandpa told him, "We won't tell your Mother about that."
After this was completed, Grandpa decided that the garage wasn't in the right place and that it really ought to be a two car garage. So, he detached it from the foundation, made a new foundation closer to the house, and hooked up a block and tackle to the old Packard, and hauled it on rollers, "Hebrew slaves building the Pyramids"-style, onto the new site. Then, back up on the roof with a hand saw to saw the entire building in half along the apex, pull the two halves apart to make it two-car sized, and then use the pieces formerly known as eaves to fill in the gap. There was pretty much nothing that he didn't think he could do, and he got a lot of satisfaction from creating something functional (though perhaps not always something aesthetic).
We did have some time to do a bit of sightseeing, and got up to Dinosaur Park, on a hill overlooking the small city. This is what I remember from my visits as a young boy...huge prehistoric beasts menacing the town. South Dakota is known for its preponderance of fossils, so I guess it makes sense. The beasts were also good for some classic photos. The impalement. The panicked "Oh No! It's going to eat me!!" shot. And of course, my body builder cousin about to take care of business with the recalcitrant Apatasaurus. Good stuff. Award winning photos, for certain. I will say, though, the Tyranosaurus rex was not terribly intimidating. Something about his goofy grin just makes it difficult to take him very seriously.
The last day, just before we had to go to the airport, we drove about 30 minutes outside of town to Mt. Rushmore for breakfast. The food was mediocre (the Park Service should stick to servicing parks), but you couldn't beat the view outside the window. And, no one fell off a bench and cracked their head this time, like my little brother did some 20+ years ago (the last time we were there).
We also had the chance to peripherally take part in the huge Sturgis Rally going on simultaneous to our visit. We seemed to be the only visitors in town that weren't decked out in leather pants and T-shirts sporting Harley Davidson logos. Though, it did give me the idea that if we ever have a son, we should name him Harley, so he would be "Harley, David's son." Surprisingly, that got vetoed.
So, while the reason for the trip was sad, it was overall a good opportunity. We got to see Grandpa one last time, say our goodbyes, and spend some quality, though difficult, time with family.