I did meet my dad until I was 10 years old.
Before then, and even for some time after, my Grandfather filled that role in my life.
When I was really young, we spent a lot of time together. He’d pick me up and take me places; “out for a bite” he liked to say. Sometimes to take pictures for the newspaper, sometimes just to drive around – but “out for a bite” meant we’d be going to Dev’s Restaurant for a burger and a milkshake – my favorite part of any of our outings. Sometimes I thought the outing was for no reason, sometimes I knew exactly why – but I always went willingly.
Unless it was 6am on Sunday morning.
My grandfather sang in the church choir; which meant I sang in the church choir too. We would get there early (in my opinion way TOO early) to ready the church for Sunday Morning Mass. We’d set out the hymnals, and place all of the other choir members’ music stands and sheet music, and he would set up the organist’s music by what hymns would be played, making sure everyone could smoothly transition from song to song.
And then we would sit there.
I often sat next to him in that choir balcony, overlooking the empty church, as he sat there quietly gazing on the gigantic cross. I always thought it was strange, how quiet and still he would become in those moments. I wondered why we just sat there in the silent church, not talking. Looking back now, I completely understand.
I think that’s when he talked to God.
Sometimes he would gaze outward, looking upon the church like he was making mental note of the things that needed upkeep. Other times, he would fix on the cross, and it seemed as if his gaze turned inward; like he was listening to someone talking from inside him. I didn’t know it then, but I wish I had understood what he was doing at the time.
He was teaching me how to pray.
My grandfather wasn’t a perfect man. Kind, yes – giving, absolutely. He gave to anyone that asked of him, and the church, and his community. He gave to his kids, and his grandkids, any and every time they asked. I’d never claim he wasn’t a good man – he most certainly was – but he definitely had his vices.
Those vices, I think, are what he talked with God about in those moments we sat in the choir balcony.
That, and Packer wins.
But whatever my Grandfather was asking for, I hope God was giving enough to grace it to him.
I hope you found the absolution you sought, Grampa.
I hope you came to know the forgiveness and grace you so often extended to others who so very clearly had wronged you.
I hope you’re in Heaven now, pain free and playing ball; teaching angels how to field grounders with the wooden gloves you made me use – but that’s another story for another time.
I just hope you’re happy.
Happy birthday, Grampa.
Robert Anton Heffner
2-16-1931 ~ 1-23-2021