It’s been 17 years to the day since he left this earth behind. But I always miss him. My Grandpa Donald Wickiser was quite the character! The things I remember most about him, are his bluntly honest nature, never knowing a stranger because he was really outgoing, and his fierce love and protective instinct for those he loved the most.
He passed away on this day in 2003, but I often wonder what he’d think of the current society we’re living in, and how people treat each other. He was born in 1934, so he was definitely old school. He came from a generation where a man was only as good as his word, where he was expected to be strong, and where there wasn’t any filter on what many people said. There also wasn’t any thought of creating a carefully polished self image, and then broadcasting it to the world like we have now with social media. Grandpa was who he was. What you saw was what you got.
Most of the time people loved what they saw and got with Grandpa. He had so many friends! From the people he knew as a farmer, to his coworkers and the kids he drove to school when he was a bus driver for the Carey School District, to the neighbors who lived next to him and my Grandma Bernie, many people loved “Dynie” as he was affectionately called.
I know everyone who knew Grandpa has their own memories of him, but I remember a few that still make me chuckle to this day. He never turned down good food, for starters. He would eat just about anything! And he always loved to drink Diet Coke. I chuckle how he used to think it was healthy, haha. But I still find myself misting up whenever I see Diet Coke, and I’ve definitely drunk a few in his honor. I also remember spending a LOT of time with him and Grandma Bernie as a little boy…although I remember having to sleep downstairs a few times because he snored so loudly! And even when I was downstairs it was hard getting to sleep. His snore sounded like a diesel engine!
But I have sentimental memories and stories too. When I was very little, he would hoist me up into the cab of the old John Deere 4430, or the red and white 1086 International tractor, or sometimes the combine, and he would take me out into the fields with him when he was working ground, planting crops or harvesting crops. It was peaceful out there. I know he was working very hard as a farmer. But as a little boy who couldn’t have been more than five or six years old, that time with him meant everything to me. I was his little “farming buddy.”
I remember how often he worried about me too. I think he worried about me a lot because of my Cerebral Palsy. I don’t know if he ever fully understood what the condition was, but he knew I was somehow different from the other kids, even though he loved me with all his heart like any good grandpa would! He probably thought that I was more frail due to my condition, which I completely understand. He was a worry wart at times, but I know that his heart was always in the right place and he always meant well.
I often struggle to reconcile that side of Grandpa with who he normally was around everybody else. Here’s this decent sized guy who I always saw as incredibly tough, and someone nobody messed with. He was either their loyal, caring friend or their worst nightmare! Who he was to somebody depended entirely upon how they treated him. But when it came to family, I remember him worrying and working himself up so much at times that he’d cry. It just goes to show that even the biggest badasses have soft hearts for those they love the most!
I still remember a dream that I had shortly before Christmas 2013. It’ll be one of those that I remember until my dying day. I remember visiting Grandma and Grandpa’s house in the dream, but for some reason only Grandpa was there. And I was sitting across from him as he was sitting in a blue folding chair. He didn’t say anything to me, but simply smiled and opened his arms as if to say he wanted me to give him a hug. So I walked over to him, and squeezed him tight. Folks, it was one of those dreams that was so vivid, that I could literally feel him hugging me, and smell the Old Spice he always used to put on. But as I hugged him, I woke up in my dorm room at Kent State. I try to be a tough guy most of the time, but there have been very few times in my life where I’ve cried that hard. I woke up from my dream and cried like a baby!
But it was as if he was trying to say, “Hey Luke Duke! I’m doing fine upstairs, but I figured I’d just check on you to see how you’re doing. I’m always here for you. Love you!” I know not everyone believes in this kind of thing, but I truly believe dreams that vivid and comforting are messages from departed loved ones who are in Heaven. I absolutely believe that wholeheartedly. I wasn’t missing him terribly or hysterical when I had the dream. He just showed up seemingly out of nowhere. If that’s not a message from Heaven, nothing is. I haven’t seen him in a dream since. But it would be nice if he showed up again at some point.
But even though he’s physically gone, I recognize him in a lot of my own mannerisms and traits. I’m incredibly outgoing and love meeting new people, and talking with them a lot. I often say what I think, with a few choice words here and there. Sometimes that’s gotten me in trouble. But most of the time, I think people admire that quality about me. I like and try to befriend the vast majority of people I come across. But if I REALLY don’t like somebody, which is rare, I let them know it! I have the temperament of anywhere between a puppy dog or wolverine depending on how people treat me. And I fiercely love those who are closest to me with everything I have!
All of those qualities are given to me by God. But I think he made sure Grandpa Don lived on through them as well. If I ever have a son, I have sometimes considered giving him the middle name Donald or Don to honor Grandpa. But until then and always, I will remember who he was: An old school man who said what he meant and meant what he said. Someone who gave everything to those who were good to him. And someone who loved God and his family with every fiber of his being.
I know there’s no perfect example to follow on how to live one’s life other than Jesus. But for the most part, Grandpa Don certainly lived a life worth emulating. I’m just glad I had the honor of being that great man’s grandson! 🙂