I’m sitting here, listening to a Chet Atkins Christmas album a couple weeks before Christmas. I am pondering memories of my grandfather Bill Hainaut. He passed away the other week. One warming memory is spending Christmas morning at his house, listening to this album on a record player.
His health had been declining the last few months, so I had a feeling his passing would be approaching. Fortunately, our family was able to visit him and my grandmother during the summer. When we arrived, he gave our kids a ride on his lawn mower. This is something he always did when we visited. The boys loved this. When I asked them to share a memory of grandpa Hainaut, they both said they enjoyed riding on the lawn mower.
When I asked our daughter, her memory was of him and his dog, Frosty. I also share a memory of my grandfather and his dogs. During childhood, my grandparents had Benji. I was afraid of this dog. In middle school, Benji passed away, they got Samson. Samson is why I love the breed of Shibu Inu. That dog was a friend. When I moved back home before starting graduate school, I would take Samson for a walk almost every day. It brings me joy that my daughter and I have a shared memory of my grandfather.
My earliest memories involve taking a train from Carbondale, Illinois up to Chicago, and then onward to Pennsylvania to visit my grandparents. There were also long car rides to Pennsylvania during Christmastime. During elementary school, I would visit for a couple weeks during the summer. This introduced me to the kids who lived in the neighborhood. Kids who would become my neighbors and classmates years later. One of our neighbors sometimes reminds me I almost drowned taking the swim test at our town’s pool during one of these visits.
Between 7th and 8th grade, I moved-in with my mother and brother. We lived at my grandfather’s house. My brother and I shared a room in the basement. It was my chore to water his garden every morning. And it was important to water the plants before 9am.
The next year, my mother built a house down the street. I was asked to help with some of the construction-related tasks by my grandfather. I detested having to do this. I had zero interest. But now as an adult, I realize what opportunity lay before me. I could have learned so much about houses. But maybe that was too much to expect out of a middle-schooler. In later years, I would help my grandfather fix our garage door, and put tile flooring in our basement.
When I think of my grandfather Bill Hainaut, I always think about our family’s cabin. It is located near a state park. Many summer holidays or family gatherings were spent there. My high school graduation party was there. It is a simple cabin. But so many family memories are tied up in that place. I would play my acoustic guitar outside. We would try to get one or two channels with a basic antenna hooked to an old TV. It was the place I would typically see my extended family on my mother’s side. When our oldest child was just a baby, there was a strong thunderstorm that knocked out power. And I even pondered living there during a summer. I sometimes wish I would have tried it for at least a month. Cut off from the internet and tv. Just my guitar and thoughts to keep me company.
Grandpa Hainaut was a great man. He took great care of my mother, brother, and me. He was always willing to help others. He was gifted and skilled working with wood. I only have memories of one of my great-grandparents, but I’m hoping my children will have more. And I hope they will remember grandpa Hainaut when they are older.