This morning my grandfather, Darrell Henson, passed away in his sleep. Next Friday would have been his eighty-seventh birthday. He was a man gifted with a quick laugh. He was a man who, in his youth, was quick to temper. He was incredibly stubborn. He was a man who constantly planned and tinkered. He was constantly at labor. So often all of that was for his family. He was the father of four children. He was the grandfather of many more.
He is gone and we are poorer for it.
After Pearl Harbor he lied about his age to serve in the Merchant Marines in the Pacific theater. He survived multiple kamikaze attacks while in the service and he kept the shrapnel from the attacks that, for a chance of fate, would have killed him. In 1988 President Reagan passed a law granting veteran status to those Merchant Marines who served in World War II, a moment that acknowledged the sacrifice and the service of my Grandfather and so many of his peers. To say that it meant a lot to him is the grossest of understatements.
He finished his work in high school only after his own children had finished high school. He was acutely aware of the importance of education and was proud of his children and grandchildren who chose education as their profession. He once showed me an essay he wrote to receive his high school diploma. It meant so much to him to receive his diploma that he kept his homework. It was written in pencil with a clean and meticulous handwriting. I have always remembered the moment he showed me that essay.
He once had a mild heart attack. He drove home to Sacramento before going to the hospital. He was in Oregon when he had the heart attack.
When I was a child, he used to pick me up from school. He would show up an hour early just to be safe. As I grew older and began to discover adolescent embarrassment, I told him he didn’t need to be so prompt. Later I begged him not to park so close to the school. He started parking across the street, but he still showed up early.
He taught me how to play poker. When two-man poker got old we would build giant forts out of old wood blocks, man them with plastic army men, and then wage war with artillery made of marbles.
We used to fish in the pond on his property. I was the biggest fish he ever caught. I fell out of the raft and tried to drown in two feet of water. He grabbed me by the scruff of my shirt and hauled me out in one motion. Not one of my best moments, but definitely one of his.
He had faced numerous health problems in the last year. He went into the hospital two weeks ago and we knew that we needed to prepare for the inevitable. I did not have the opportunity to come home to see him one last time when my other grandfather, Paul Blansett, passed away. I could not come to the funeral. I was not able to be there to support my family. It has weighed on me ever since.
I came home this weekend to do all the things I could not do when we were last faced with this crisis. He was not well off. Yet when my dad told him that I was there he lit up just a little. Then he saluted me with the slightest of smiles on his face.
Once, when complaining about the aches and pains that come with age, he paused and said that every day he woke up was a good day. That was probably twenty years ago.
Today was a bad day. I will miss him terribly. May he rest in peace.
On this weekend filled with so much tragedy, may we all find comfort in those small moments of grace that we have been fortunate enough to share with the ones we love.