Before I continue, let me just disclaim: I had a hard time writing this, because I didn’t want to. Yes, I’m devastated to have to live in a world without Robert Engel – known instead to me and the rest of his “grandgeese” as Grandpa Bob – and without my future kids getting a chance to know him like I have, as well as all the rest of my friends and loved ones. But what I mean is it’s a shame for me to try to sum up how he meant to me in a few short paragraphs: it was much more fun to live it, and this account of him is more than likely going to fall short. Well, this is me giving it a try anyway. So here we go.
Growing up, I knew a few things for sure: I knew it hurt to fall off a bike, I knew clowns were horrible scary things, I knew pizza was tasty, and I knew after every visit to Pocatello, Grandpa Bob would veer down over his trademark nose, through a wily stare which was only accentuated by his thick glasses, and in a raspy, cautionary yet dulcet voice he would warn me… “Be good, or grandpa will kill you.” Around 6 years old I figured out he was probably joking, but he also traded and sold guns out of his basement: I wasn’t about to take any chances. And I wasn’t going to let on that I hardly believed he would actually kill me as soon as I came back for another visit and told him I didn’t eat my vegetables. It was a playful threat, and a playful fear. With every visit to see grandpa, we exchanged more and more clever jabs followed by witty comebacks. All in love. It’s hard to imagine, but I swear some people live their entire lives without a genuine understanding of sarcasm. My Grandpa Bob taught it to me at 6! I think if more people knew Grandpa Bob, we would all take ourselves a lot less seriously. After all, none of us are getting out of this alive.
One of grandpa’s favorite unconventional quotes he loved to share was, “If you can keep your head while everyone around you is losing theirs, you probably don’t understand the situation.” I understood why he embraced that quote as much as he did. The majority of my memories of him are soaked in laughter. I can’t look back to a single situation that I experienced with grandpa that he couldn’t lighten and bring into perspective. He lived through a great depression and subsequent poor economies, a world war, the cold war, all sorts of chaos and disasters, 9/11, the George W Bush administration (which I am convinced scared him more than the bomb): and despite it all, saw life as more fun than any of us with all of our distractions are likely able to see. He didn’t look at the world with dread, but with intellectual curiosity and amusement. I don’t think Grandpa Bob ever understood “the situation”; he didn’t get the memo that this world is too bleak, full of pain, or void of fairness to have a sense of humor. Thanks to his example, in spite of all the people doing terrible things and losing their heads in this crazy world, I have a chance to keep mine. I don’t think I understand the situation either. Thank God.
Because he was able to keep his head, grandpa was always up for a rousing discussion of current events, religion, the political landscape, and how we as a human civilization have otherwise gotten to this point. Throughout the course of these many conversations, I learned one thing consistently: that you could disagree with grandpa in one of two different ways. The first way is respectfully, to which he would respond with civility, dignity, and respect. The second way was to get angry, visibly offended, shocked, etc, and grandpa would respond to that with all the same respect, but also a reassurance that he could not give two you-know-whats. I struggle with plenty of personal self-doubt, but grandpa was one person I never saw as lacking in confidence or certainty about who he was or what he thought. This stayed with me in the best way, and I continue to learn from it.
I never saw Grandpa Bob at a loss for words until our final goodbye. Even when it became physically exhausting for him to talk, he perked up and quipped a storm every time he saw his grandsons. Even in his final days, he still knew how to live like he didn’t mind being here, while being completely aware and realistic about the way things are. I’ve never met someone so comfortable with the reality of the situation. This was driven home when, addressing his own imminent death, delivered perhaps his most well-known and classic “Bob-ism”: “Like the rabbi said at the circumcision: it won’t be long now.” He taught me that a sharply tuned brain is about all one needs to have the time of their life. I’m glad he doesn’t have to deal with all that pain anymore, but I’ve never pitied Grandpa Bob – he led a full, incredible life the way he wanted to live it, while at the same time being an incredible example to us in his marriage with grandma and his affirmation of us and what we could become. Even when he was bedridden with a prognosis of days from an exhausting cancer, and he still raised the same German toast that he picked up in 1946 in Nurnberg with his grandsons. Mom, dad, full disclosure: he figured you might kill him if you knew this, so I figured now was as good a time as any.
When puzzled about the unpredictable way life plays itself out, there is a verbal equivalent to scratching our heads. We say that God has a sense of humor. I know that Grandpa never thought too much of God, but honestly, as a Christian aware of the terrible things done under the guise of Christianity, I hardly blame grandpa for being soured by the poor representation. Actions speak louder than words after all. If God really does have a good sense of humor (by the way, I believe He does), then He has probably always been fond of Grandpa. If heaven is a place where humor exists, then I think grandpa is as good of a candidate as any of us. Luckily, I don’t take myself seriously enough to pretend like I have all the answers. That’s a such a wonderful relief.
Today here on earth, however, we’re left with a world that is less hilarious, less witty, and less interesting. Today, the Republicans will be damned a little bit less. Today, some of the best jokes and the goofiest songs will go unsung. It’s a huge loss for us to be sure, but I count myself fortunate, because he is a large part of who I continue to be. Rest in peace, Grandpa Bob. I haven’t been on a bicycle in a while, but I still hate clowns, and I still love pizza. Maybe clowns have gotten a bad rap this whole time. Maybe Republicans have too. I don’t know. Those things may change. But something remains true from my childhood, and will remain true even when I am Grandpa Nate: you are the greatest grandpa the world has ever seen. The greatness of your nose, and everything attached to it will not be lost on this “grandgoose”. So let us all appreciate this life and the ones we love without taking ourselves serious enough to lose sight of that. I know he did. Prost!