One of the hardest workers I've ever known

Has it been four years already? Or, perhaps a more appropriate question would be, has it only been four years?

April 29, 2004, age 81 of Kentwood, formerly of Taylor. Beloved husband of Christine. Loving father of Dan (Karen), Tom (Denise) and Sue (Todd) Statetzny. Dearest grandfather of Dereck, Scott, Monica, Ben, April and Morgan. Visitation Saturday 5-9 p.m. and Sunday 2-9 p.m. with Funeral service on Monday 10 a.m. at the Voran Funeral Home (Taylor Chapel), 23750 Goddard Road. Interment Woodmere Cemetery

Seeing that obituary in online or in the paper, one may notice the American flag icon, commemorating my grandfather's Army service in the Asia-Pacific Theater during World War II. Four years after his passing, I though I'd share a little more about one of the hardest workers I've known.

'Poppa' was born March 10, 1923, the second of five sons. He began working at the famous Ford Motor Company plant in Dearborn, Michigan, in the late 1930s. His time there was interrupted by his (aforementioned) service in World War II.

When he retired from Ford in 1987 (right around the time I was born), he had logged 45 years with the company. Forty-five years with the same company! Oh, and did I mention he was a proud member of the UAW?

Aside from that, he liked gardening. I credit his love for gardening and his love of nature for my own passion for this thing we call Planet Earth.

And in case I need to tell you, he was one heck of a Democrat. In 2001 he got a calendar from the DNC featuring pets of famous Presidents. He let his 13-year-old politically astute grandson (me) have it.

But first and foremost, he was a family man. Boy, did he love his wife of 50-some years - whom we affectionately call Nannu - as well as his three kids, and his six grandchildren. In a small way, his love for all of us made up for my never being able to know my other grandfather, who died two years before I was born.

Poppa was often present at Dad's Monday night bowling games with the local Knights of Columbus council league. For several years in a row, he won something in a raffle at Kentwood's Fourth of July Pancake Breakfast. He and Nannu attended as many of my band concerts as they could.

I am certain that if he was alive and his health was good enough health, Poppa would have sat right next to Nannu at my high school graduation in 2005.

However, it was not to be.

April 29, 2004, was the most difficult day of my life.

The night before, my grandpa was taken to the emergency room. As it turned out, he suffered a massive heart attack, likely caused by his laboring to breathe due to his bout with pneumonia.

I knew something was wrong when, shortly after lunch, my English teacher told me that I had an early dismissal (he was hospitalized the night before). As I got into the car, Mom told me that he hadn't died yet, but was in horrible shape. Once I heard my brother Dereck crying in the front seat, I knew it was really bad.

When I got to the hospital, my dad told me it would be just a matter of hours. I cried like a baby, as did Nannu, my parents, and Dereck. I couldn't bear to stay. Mom, Dereck, and I went home just after 1:30.

Just as we walked in the door, Dad called. Poppa had died.

Two days later we went to the funeral home in Taylor for the first day of visitation. His body was in an open casket.

Seeing that lifeless body... that's when it hit me. Never again would I hear him tell his stories about the war, growing up during the Depression, raising three kids. His Fourth of July raffle winning streak was over.

The next day, as we got out of the car at the funeral home, two mallard ducks wandered their way in front of the funeral home door. Coincidence? I don't think so. You see, my other grandma - who had passed away three years earlier - loved mallard ducks. We saw these ducks as a sign from above - that Grandma was watching over us and wanted us to be able to find peace.

At the funeral I managed to give a eulogy of sorts. My aunt wrote a poem that encompassed his love for his family, gardening, and lemon meringue pie.

He was laid to rest on a beautiful, sunny day in early May. (Just a couple days earlier it had been snowing! It's Michigan, after all!)

Four years later, I don't know how he would have handled hearing that Bush was going to be in for another four years. I can tell you that the way workers are being mistreated would not have made that UAW retiree happy. My aunt remarked a couple years ago that if he saw how expensive gas was getting, that would've given him a fatal heart attack.

Still, most of the emotional pain following Poppa's death has been replaced with warm memories. I still miss him, but I am at peace, knowing he has found an even more lasting peace. He went out without much suffering.

Somehow, Nannu is still with us at 84 (we thought she would be the first to go). Here I am, finishing my third year of college, while one of my cousins is five weeks away from graduating high school!

And wouldn't you know it, since Poppa left, I have won something at the Fourth of July breakfast every year!

Coincidence? I don't think so.

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