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Memories of My Grandfather Who Passed Away Yesterday

Grandfather – second from the right

Late last night I found out my Grandfather “Papa” passed away. He lived a long happy life into his 90s. He was the last of that generation in our family still around until yesterday. Sadly I didn’t see him very often due to geography and cost in travel but the time spent with him and my Grandmother who passed away a couple of years ago was special and have great memories of those times and events spent together.

I saw my Grandfather more frequently as a child in the late 70s and early 80s, I guess because of youth and ability. My grandparents lived in Willits, California which is about three hours north of San Francisco. Willits is kind of a lazy town located in the hills. A town built around the time of mid to late 1800s gold rush.

I went to Willits on my own as an ‘Unaccompanied Minor’ back in 1981 or maybe 1982. For fun my grandparents and I would walk to the town airport and watch the planes come in and fly out. Once in awhile we’d drive down into town for groceries and whatnot. When I drive say down, I mean down, they lived up on a fairly big hill. I played with the neighbors’ kids a lot during those weeks. Journey and ABBA were certainly tops on the backyard speakers as we played tag and baseball with ghost runners. I even tried skateboarding that summer. I had no gnarly moves to say the least.

I can vividly remember on that visit a trip along the California coastline my Grandparents and I took in an old Volkwagon van. We spent a few days taking the scenic route through San Francisco and all of the towns and cities along 101. We camped along the way, stopped at incredible beaches and took in some breathtaking views. Honestly I thought we were going to go over the cliff at some points on that drive along a stretch of highway known as Big Sur. Okay, not really but those were deep drops and they did make me nervous. What an incredible journey. I just wished I was older and enjoyed it more. We were on our way to Los Angeles and all I could think about was my cousins, Disneyland and the sights and sounds of So-Cal.

Another visit we took to Willits to see my grandparents was back in 1986 and this time our whole family went.  We all went for my Great Grandmother’s (my grandfather’s mother) 90th birthday. I remember on that trip blasting off fireworks and taking a gorgeous train ride through the redwoods on the ‘Skunk Train’. We were the there during the 4th of July and I just read that Willits has the oldest 4th of July celebration in California. Good times and very memorable.

I also remember at 14 years old in that same VW van, Papa teaching me how to drive a standard. At that moment I learned it was just going to be automatics for me. He had me try and go into 1st gear. The vehicle lunged forward and I thought we were going to hit the the curb in front of us in the parking lot.

More recently, and the last two times I saw my grandfather was here in the east at my wedding and then again back in the fall of 2005 at my cousin’s wedding in Rhode Island.

He was a great man. I am sad today for his passing but I don’t want to take away from those who were close, like my Mom, Aunts, Uncles and cousins in California and his close friends at the end.  I am very sorry for your loss. This piece of writing coming from me is about celebrating and cherishing the memories shared and the time we spent together.

It does rejuvenate my love for that part of the country. If I had the resources I’d love to go out west for awhile, visit family, take a cable car, drive 101 along the coast, watch a sunset over the ocean. Most of all take pictures and basically, “get my hippie on” for a bit.

RIP, Grandpa Fritz, aka ‘Papa’

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