I Ate Mabe’s Pizza on the Day My Grandpa Died

My grandpa Fosaaen passed away on December 22, 2008 – the Monday before Christmas.  As I begin my Monday today, I can’t help but think back to that morning two years ago.

Mom called me between 6:00 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. that day and could barely get the words out, “We are going to Decorah to the hospital.  Do you want to come along?”  I didn’t even think about it and immediately said, “Yes, when are we leaving?”  I hung up my phone, left a message for my boss, and got ready.

On the drive from Durant to Decorah, I thought about the possibility of Grandpa not making it to Christmas.  But then I thought, no, he’s gone through a lot and is as strong and stubborn as they get.  It will all be fine.

When we arrived at the hospital, Grandpa was happy to see us.  We spent some time with him, and when he got tired, we decided to go to lunch at Mabe’s.  Eating Mabe’s pizza – my favorite – just wasn’t the same that day.  And that was the first moment when I realized things just might not end well that day.  I still love Mabe’s pizza, but I can’t eat it without thinking of Grandpa.

We went back to the hospital, and a few hours later, Grandpa had fought his last fight and went to heaven.  I had never been with someone when they died before, and it was painful, peaceful, and exhausting all at the same time.

Then the rest of the family came, we spent what seemed like hours re-hashing the day, and we drove back home.

We still had Christmas at Grandpa’s house on Christmas Day, and we opened our cards he had waiting for us.  The day after Christmas was the wake, and the following day was his funeral.  It was a dreary, rainy/icy day, and the grandchildren carried his casket from the church to his grave site.

All of the cousins with Grandpa at his house - Thanksgiving 2001

You may think this is a downer of a story to tell right before Christmas, but it’s not meant to be depressing.  You see, the day after Grandpa Fosaaen died, I sat down at my computer and wrote the following speech.  I had no idea if I would be asked to – or would be able to – speak at his funeral.  I never delivered this speech in public, but instead saved it to a flash drive knowing it might give me comfort in the days, months, and years ahead:

I think one of the many beautiful things about life is the many memories we have, and I have so many memories of Grandpa to share.  On Tuesday night, I began typing and before I knew it, I had assembled quite a list.  I am sure my younger cousins all have good memories of Grandpa too.  These are merely my memories that I would like to share with you.  They are very random and at times humorous.  While this is a funeral, it’s also a celebration of Grandpa’s life, so it IS OK to smile or even laugh.  🙂

Things you may or may not know about my grandpa, Irvin Fosaaen: (Please note, much of these fun facts are from the perspective of a much younger Melissa.)

– Grandpa had a lead foot.  Even in the front seat, I would feel queasy on our trips between Ossian and West Union – THE Scenic Byway = Melissa’s private countdown to destination arrival; this was also the case on the route between Ossian and Decorah. Thanks to the “fuzz buster” we could be alerted when cops were out to get Grandpa.  I loved to be the back-up alert, just in case Grandpa didn’t see or hear the incessant flashing and beeping on his own.  Grandpa also taught me that sometimes the cops are tricky and don’t turn on their radar until we’re really close.  Also, grocery stores would make the device go off without reason.  However, I was always on alert for a cop who happened to be near the grocery store.  Now THAT would be tricky!!

– My grandpa and I both had red hair.  His own kids didn’t even have red hair!! I was SO the chosen one.

Grandpa, Sarah & Me
I was a bit disappointed when I had to start sharing Grandpa with Sarah in 1985. At least she wasn't a redhead!

– Grandpa was born in 1919 – wow.

– Grandpa’s middle name was Kermit.  How cool – just like Kermit the Frog in The Muppets.  I wondered many times when I was younger if his parents really liked Kermit the Frog.

– Grandpa attended A.A. meetings regularly, and I loved A.A. meetings with Grandpa.  Lots of older people to look cute for….I was all over that.  I’d sit and color or read a book or play a quiet game while people shared very sad or exciting stories.  I could say all of the A.A. themes with them and would join in.  In my mind, it was like a second type of church.  And Mom and Dad taught me that God gave us a voice for a reason.  I also loved the goodies at the A.A. meetings.  Always so many delicious desserts AND I could boast that I had cooked/baked whatever Grandpa and I brought that night.  The A.A. people were my buddies – I’d always walk out of those meetings with a few dollars and candy in my pocket.  Sweet!

– Grandpa liked his coffee.  Even in the middle of July with his house a steamy 90+ degrees, he’d have a pot of coffee brewing.  And Grandpa liked his coffee strong and black.  No cream or sugar.  I was so proud of myself when I grew big enough to drink his coffee and actually like it.

Grandpa gave me the hat and coat for Easter, along with a basket full of goodies from the Easter Bunny. Yes, the Easter Bunny always made a stop at Grandpa's house!

– Grandpa’s freezer = Schwann’s push-ups galore.  Grandpa always had a ready supply of push ups for me.  And unlike Mom, Grandpa would tell me, “Go ahead, have two!” even before I thought of asking.

– When I stayed at Grandpa’s I got to stay up until Midnight and sleep in as late as I wanted.  Grandpa and I would watch Johnny Carson together.  I still think of Grandpa any time Johnny Carson is mentioned.  For you young ones in the crowd, Johnny Carson was the Tonight Show host before Jay Leno came on the scene.

– Grandpa always had a desk and lots of books.  I think this is genetic, because I love my apartment office, complete with book shelves and a desk.  Grandpa would sit at his desk and open mail, write letters, and mail cards.  He had lots of phone numbers, addresses, and useful information taped on the wall next to his desk. I knew our U.S. Senators’ and local legislators’ names at a very young age because of the education that Grandpa’s desk wall gave me.  What’s more is that Grandpa actually called or mailed them when he was concerned about an issue.  Now that is political activism!

– Grandpa loved to work in his garden – specifically his rose garden. Grandpa’s roses were very well-known in the community and county, for that matter.  Grandpa showed me how to arrange the flowers so they looked nice – complete with babysbreath and the works.  I’d even get my own materials to make my own creations!  And Grandpa always told me that my flowers looked beautiful.  Grandpa’s roses brightened many weddings and special occasions, all free of charge.  (I wanted to insert a photo of me and Grandpa with his roses here, but alas it is still with the picture board we assembled for the funeral two years ago, at my uncle’s house.  I must find a reason to post that when I get it back.)

– Grandpa was just a nice guy.  He had lots of friends who stopped by to say hi, and quite a few whom he spoke to in a low voice when I was around because he was helping them through tough times.  I never heard one person in Ossian ever say anything negative about my Grandpa, and I know why.  He was a great friend and community volunteer.  He was active in the garden club and also the EMS crew.

– And his favorite love was that of his Lord and his church.  Grandpa had a

I'm all dressed up in a dress from Grandpa - even received some birthday sunglasses to complete the outfit.

strong faith and loved Stavanger Lutheran Church.  I’d always sit up front with Grandpa in church and be proud that I was Irvin’s granddaughter.  And I was even more excited when asked if I was wearing a dress that Grandpa had bought for me.  I would enthusiastically say “Yes, isn’t it pretty?” and Grandpa would just smile.

I will miss my Grandpa terribly, but I am also happy that he is in heaven right now smiling down on us all.  I know it is selfish to want him here now, but you see, Grandpa wasn’t just my grandpa – he was my friend too.

Two years after he has passed away, I still get teary-eyed every now and then when I think of Grandpa Fosaaen.  With quite a few recent deaths in the extended Schulz family and in the Durant community, my heart goes out to those who are still grieving over the holidays this year.

My stepmom Jo gave me an ornament that brought me comfort that year, and this is what it says,

“Perhaps they are not stars, but rather openings in heaven where our loved ones shine down to let us know they are happy.”

Holidays are a happy time with those we have close to us, but they can be painful when we remember those whom we miss.  But they are with us in spirit, and they get to spend Christmas with Jesus.


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