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My Professional Background - Once upon a time, I wanted to be a motivational speaker. Actually, I was a professional motivational speaker for about 5 years.:
Last Tuesday morning, Brian came into our bedroom and sat by my side. I was in a deep sleep after a restless night, and he gently shook my arm to wake me. My eyes struggled to focus and find his gaze, but once they did, I knew. I just wasn’t sure who.

“Katy, your parents have been trying to call you. PawPaw passed away this morning.”

I immediately closed my eyes again and visualized his face.

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I pictured him smiling. He was always smiling.

I pictured him whistling. When PawPaw wasn’t smiling, he was whistling.

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I pictured him singing his own special, rap version of “Happy Birthday.”

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A song that, despite multiple strokes that robbed him of his language, he could still sing word for word and clear as a bell.

My mom’s dad was quite a remarkable man. PawPaw suffered an aortic aneurism back in 1996 that “should have” killed him. He then suffered multiple strokes in 1999 that took away his ability to speak coherently—though “you’re all a bunch of yappos” was pretty clear to those of us who knew him. PawPaw didn’t always speak clearly, but he could certainly communicate.

For more than 14 years, PawPaw became the world’s greatest charades player, and we “yappos” were his fellow teammates.

There are so many things I could share about my mom’s dad that would tell you the kind of man he was. He was a Marine.

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I never knew this about my grandfather until my dad mentioned it in his eulogy.

I knew he was military, but I never knew he was a Marine.

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Is he not the happiest Marine you’ve ever seen in your life?

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My PawPaw was hilarious. He could always make my late Grandmama laugh. Even when she tried to resist.

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They were married nearly fifty years before she passed away in 2004.

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I can still hear her calling, “Daaaaaaaaale,” and him jumping up to get her whatever she needed. They loved each other. They took care of each other.

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I remember that well. (Though, apparently, they let each other use a bit too much hairspray.)

PawPaw was always the life of the party. Even after his strokes.

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PawPaw loved to garden, and he had an incredible work ethic. He was rarely seen without dirt under his nails and weeds in his hands.

(Here he is with his brother-in-law, my late Uncle Julius.)

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He was such a fun grandfather (even though he used to make me clip his toenails). PawPaw was there for all of our sporting events, plays, concerts, recitals, and any other boring event or party that parents and grandparents are forced to endure.

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He was there. Smiling and/or whistling through it all.

I truly could go on and on about PawPaw, but I believe my dad said it best during his eulogy this past Friday:

“Mr. Walsh graduated from South Bend’s Washington-Clay High School in 1950. That year, each of the Seniors was asked what their ambitions were. Their responses were then posted beside their pictures in the school’s yearbook. Beside Mr. Wash’s picture was a one-word ambition: ‘Millionaire.’

“Mr. Walsh never became a millionaire, at least not that any of us knew about. He instead settled for 6 children, 13 grandchildren, and 8 great grandchildren who loved him dearly. I know that if he could, he would tell us that with that kind of legacy, he far surpassed his stated high school ambition. Money and status can’t buy that.”

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(The “worst cackle” part made me laugh—no, cackle.)

My grandfather wasn’t a wealthy man. Of that, we’re all pretty certain. To my knowledge the only exotic location he ever visited was Korea. During the Korean War.

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But I can assure you that my PawPaw was a very rich man. Rich in things that endure beyond aneurisms, strokes and even death.

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He was rich in family.

Rich in laughter.

Rich in love.

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PawPaw, thank you for all the laughter, the music, and the memories. Thank you for sacrificing your youthful ambition to give us something far more valuable:  your time.

We’ll never forget you. And we’ll always sing your special version of Happy Birthday.

Love you,

Your Little Yappos

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Comments to "My Grandfather, The Millionaire"

  1. Julia Jet Ski

    October 9, 2013

    What a wonderful tribute to your PawPaw. xoxox

  2. Sarah

    October 9, 2013

    I’m so sorry for your loss. He sounds like an amazing man.
    Sarah recently posted…Our Week in iPhone Photos: 9/29-10/5My Profile

  3. Gina

    October 9, 2013

    What a tremendous life that he lived….as I looked at the photographs, I was reminded how fast this life goes by. In the blink of an eye, we are moved from each phase of life, with no idea of what lies ahead. I lost my brother 2 years ago, very unexpectedly and have been struggling with his passing. You reminded me that of all the ambitions in this life, having the love of children and family surpasses all other goals. And my brother, like your grandfather, knew the love of his children and his family. I thank you for reminding me of this. It makes it easier to know that above all else, our family members were loved beyond measure. Sending prayers for your family as you find your way through this next phase of life.

  4. Karmen

    October 9, 2013

    Katy,

    I am so sorry for your loss. What a lovely tribute. You painted such a vivid picture of him in my mind that I can almost hear that whistle and unique birthday rap. 🙂

    I pray God gives you comfort in this sad time for you and your family.

  5. KimB

    October 9, 2013

    What a great tribute for a wonderful man. I’m sorry that he can’t bring you new joys and memories. But hopefully, all the memories he has given you will continue to bring you joy each day.

  6. Kizz

    October 9, 2013

    I’m so sorry that he’s gone. Thank you for sharing a bit of him with us.
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  7. Colleen

    October 9, 2013

    I am sitting here crying, again, but happy, I think – he was so special. I especially loved that twinkle in his eye. He was always so happy to see you, and caring, and of course, that brilliant Walsh smile that just lit up the room, and made you feel so special. And oh my goodness, he was so beautiful!! He was always the best looking man in the room, unless my Dad, his brother, was there and then they begrudgingly shared the spotlight. He was one of the best and we’ll miss him so, but the gifts he shared with his family, his love, his integrity, his joy, will live on forever.

  8. Ashley

    October 9, 2013

    Katy this was the sweetest!!! Of course I am in tears reading this but smiling as well!!! PawPaw will be missed!!! I love you so much and thanks for writing!!! Geee whizz I never knew how much Austin and him looked alike until all the older pics I just saw!!! Amazing!! Love you!!! 🙂
    Ashley (one of his lil Yappos!!)

  9. Adrienn

    October 9, 2013

    I loved reading this post about your PawPaw. So touching.
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  10. Melody Low

    October 9, 2013

    That was an incredible touching loving piece you just wrote. My heartfelt condolences to all of your family. Uncle Dale was a part of our lives here in Tucson when he would come to visit. We are thinking about all of you and sending our prayers.

  11. Sharon barnes

    October 9, 2013

    I enjoyed your memories. It has been a hard year for all of us, let’s make sure the next year is full of love! I will make sure Tripp reads this. Love you all!

  12. He left you and your family with a million smiles, a million memories and a million times to be at your side in spirit! God Bless!

  13. Jill Claessens

    October 9, 2013

    I’m so sorry about your pawpaws passing–what a lovely tribute you made to him. Thinking about you…

  14. Pingback: A Time to Weep, and a Time to Laugh | (Nobody Puts) Katy in a Corner

  15. Aunt Kat

    November 2, 2013

    Dear Katy,
    This is a beautiful tribute to my father and your grandfather. I am in tears, but what else is new. I cried last night in the grocery store because he used to love to go to the grocery store and I remember many runs to the store with him. Then I got to the garage with my groceries and I was still crying and I don’t even care what people think of my babbling, crying self right now. I am a mess. But within the tears is an INCREDIBLE AMOUNT OF JOY! The memories you have posted I will cherish forever! Thank you so much for posting them! You are such a sweetheart! When I returned to school yesterday after my Medical Leave I entered the room to a garden of cut out flowers and each flower had get well sentiments to me and condolences expressed about Dad from my students! My heart was so full! The children and I discussed the peaks and valleys in life and I did describe my Dad to them a little bit and one little boy said, “Mrs. Zackery, your Daddy sounds just like you.” He smiled the sweetest smile and it was truly genuine. I thought I was going to lose it. It gave me a lot of food for thought. It was an amazing gesture and will be something I will always cherish in addition to this tribute Thank you Katy for the time you took to honor PawPaw and Dad in this way.

    I love you so much,

    Aunt Kat 🙂

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