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He Had a Good Time

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My grandfather was named John C. Bonser, but everyone called him Jack. He was tall, with red hair, deep blue eyes, and a ski slope nose like Bob Hope. He was a writer, a poet, a prolific story-teller. When my mother and her three siblings were growing up, Grandpa Jack would enter all kinds of writing contests and win. He won money, vacations, even a new kitchen once.

GRANDPA JACK POOL

When I was growing up, my parents and sister and I spent summers at my grandparents’ house in St. Louis. Many evenings, Grandpa Jack and I would sit on the porch swing in the back yard and he’d tell me ghost stories — one after another after another. I never got tired of listening to them and he never tired of telling them, but he’d always ask me to tell my own, too.

Just as Grandpa Jack encouraged me to tell stories like he did, he also encouraged my TV habit. Every year, when I arrived for the summer, he’d present me with a new copy of TV Guide and tell me to circle all the shows that sounded appealing to me. Then, he’d write out a detailed schedule, focusing especially on Saturday mornings when all the best cartoons were on. Since I only had one American channel the rest of the year (if I was lucky), it was overwhelming to visit the states and suddenly have dozens of channels from which to choose. But Grandpa’s TV schedule, with the corresponding channel codes, made things more manageable for me and, with his help, I had most of my waking hours from June to August mapped out pretty well.

GRANDPA JACK WENDY GARDEN

When Grandpa wasn’t watching TV himself, he was usually sitting in front of his typewriter at the kitchen table working on a new poem. In more recent years, any time I visited him, he’d recite his latest work.

“That’s a good one,” I’d say, approvingly, after he finished.

“You like it?” he’d ask.

“I do.”

“But which one is your favorite?”

My favorite was one he wrote to my grandmother years ago (he wrote her many poems through their years together*) for their 50th anniversary. It was published in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book and later inspired a TV special starring Ed Asner (who played my grandfather). My family was together for Thanksgiving when the special aired and we all got such a kick out of seeing my grandfather’s story — well, my grandparents’ story, really — on national television.

My grandfather was a man with several quirks and interests. He liked having his fingers wiggled, for one, and, when my cousins and I were kids, he’d pay us like a nickel each to wiggle his fingers — and twenty-five cents to rub his feet. In the 80s, he loved watching WWF wrestling matches on TV, and, in more recent years, he enjoyed re-runs of “The Lawrence Welk Show.” He liked long drives — especially along the Mississippi River, the St. Louis Cardinals, and playing penny poker. He loved donuts on weekend mornings, salty potato chips to snack on, and, for a diabetic, he could sure put away a bowl of ice cream.

Another thing he absolutely loved was decorating his home for a holiday — and not just Christmas either. Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, even the Fourth of July all got the Jack Bonser treatment, although summer months — the months I always visited him growing up — were certainly more subdued. I didn’t realize the extent of this hobby of his until my freshman year of college when I finally had the opportunity to see my grandparents’ house decked out for Christmas.

Every single room in my grandparents’ two-level home looked like a holiday warehouse. There were trees on every surface, Christmas-themed music boxes that played “Silent Night” or “Jingle Bells” or “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and tinsel and lights and miniature winter wonderland villages everywhere with miniature snow-capped hills and homes and frozen ponds with miniature children skating around. There were red and green Christmasy throw blankets and Christmasy throw pillows and stockings hung with care. Even the soaps and the soap dishes and the hand towels in the bathrooms were season-appropriate.

“Do you like it?” he asked, his blue eyes twinkling with pride.

“Oh, I do!” I said. And I did.

GRANDPA JACK WENDY CHAIR

I was 23 when my grandparents moved out of the house they raised their four kids in and into a much smaller two-bedroom apartment, and I’ve long thought of my memories of them almost split in a “before and after” sense. But I realize now, it’s not so much my memories of THEM that are split in such a way, but my own identity and the role they played in shaping it. Before they moved, before I was 23, I was still a kid in many ways, and their house was one constant in my life — a life of revolving homes and schools and friends. When they decided to simplify their lives, to size down, and move into a smaller home, it signified for me a major shift. I was two years out of college, about to move to Chicago with a boyfriend, and the one home I’d always known to be consistent would no longer be in my life.

And now, 14 years later, another shift.

Grandpa Jack died peacefully in his sleep on Sunday morning. He was 90. He leaves a wife, whom he loved so very much, four children, two sons-in-law, a daughter-in-law, six grandchildren, four grandsons-in-law, one great-grandson, and many life-long friends, and other family.

I got to celebrate his milestone birthday with him just last month, and I am so grateful that my final memory of him is such a happy one. He’d been unwell for several months and had recently moved to a nursing home, but on the night of his 90th birthday, he came out for a celebratory dinner with about 15 of us. My aunt brought these silly stick-on mustaches and my grandfather had fun trying on different ones. There was cake and ice cream and laughing and, for one more evening, we had our Grandpa Jack.

The next morning I went to the nursing home to say good-bye before I flew back to New York, but, before I got to his room, a staff member stopped me.

“Your grandfather must have had a wonderful time last night — he’s still sleeping!” she said with a smile.

“Oh, he did!” I replied. And he did.

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Rest in peace, Grandpa Jack. I’ll miss you so much.

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*This is one of the many poems he wrote for my grandmother, his wife of over 64 years:

Winter Rose

My love is like a winter rose
Her beauty blooming still
Though time’s relentless river flows
And frost lies on the hill.

My love is like an evergreen
Bright-leafed against the snow
Though Autumn’s flame has left the scene
Her ashes softly glow.

My love is like a treasured song
That ever sweeter grows;
My heart, with gladness, sings along
Though years the rhythm slows.

My love is like a photograph
Of one whose gracious pose
And gentle ways and happy laugh
The camera’s magic shows.

My love is like a precious grain
In spring a farmer sows
‘Til kissed by sun and wind and rain
To golden ripeness grows.

My love is like a dear old friend
So wonderful to know
Upon life’s path, from end to end,
Together we will go.

My love is like a winter rose,
That frost can never kill;
In memory’s soil, her goodness grows
And beauty blossoms still.

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{ 75 comments… add one }

avatar Addie Pray September 15, 2013, 8:35 pm

Beautiful, Wendy! I’m crying. It sounds like your Grandpa Jack was a great man.

Classic Classic September 15, 2013, 8:40 pm

Oh Wendy, what a beautiful way to honor your Grandpa. This makes me cry, but it is so beautiful. So much joy and love in this. I am sorry for your loss.

Bubbles Bubbles September 15, 2013, 8:54 pm

What a beautiful, loving tribute. It’s so heartfelt it made me cry. Condolences to you and yours.

Miel Miel September 15, 2013, 9:19 pm

You made me cry with this one. I’m very sorry for your loss. You say your grandfather encouraged you to tell story too. Pieces like this makes me believe you definitely inherited some of his talent. The way you told his story was beautiful. Even though I never met him, I was very touched by your words. May he rest in peace.

Copa Copa September 15, 2013, 9:24 pm

So sorry for your (and your family’s) loss. I cried, too! Your Grandpa Jack seems like a great guy who lived a fulfilling & happy life.

avatar Something Random September 15, 2013, 9:30 pm

What a beautiful tribute to your grandpa. Thank you for sharing. I submit my condolence for your loss.

avatar Jean September 15, 2013, 9:34 pm

I met Jack several times since 2006 at gatherings of mutual friends. Everyone always said: “He’s the one that writes all those poems.” I didnt realize he was your grandfather, until now. I’m sorry. Im glad he got to meet your son!

avatar quixoticbeatnik September 15, 2013, 9:37 pm

I am so sorry for your loss, Wendy! He reminds me a little of my grandfather, who passed away my freshman year of high school. It sounds like you got your amazing writing skills from your grandfather. You are lucky to have had him in your life for so long. Many hugs to you from me! It is so hard to lose your grandparents.

avatar rachel September 15, 2013, 9:40 pm

Wow, how beautiful. You’ve made me tear up, too. Your Grandpa sounds like a great man, and what a wonderful tribute to him.

avatar jlyfsh September 15, 2013, 9:40 pm

Men of that generation were so unique. My Grandfather passed away in April and the hole he left can still very much be felt. So sorry for your loss and that of my your family. I’ll especially be thinking of your Grandmother. I’ve seen mine trying to navigate a world without her husband (just shy of 56 years for them) and there really isn’t a word to describe how hard it is.

Thank you for sharing your story!

avatar starpattern September 15, 2013, 9:40 pm

Oh, I’m so sorry for your loss. This was so beautifully written. How wonderful that you have all these memories of Grandpa Jack you can look back on.

avatar Taylor September 15, 2013, 10:17 pm

A beautiful tribute, when you draw tears from people who never had the honor of meeting your grandfather. Through your words, I feel like I know him a little bit.

CatsMeow CatsMeow September 15, 2013, 10:17 pm

It sounds like he had an amazing life and you got to share many wonderful memories with him.

avatar Jenny September 15, 2013, 10:35 pm

This was so beautiful, Wendy. You seem to have inherited your wonderful way with words from your grandfather. I’m so sorry for your loss.

avatar April September 15, 2013, 11:05 pm

Your sister posted this link on Facebook. Glad you were able to use his high school yearbook photo and poem that I posted earlier today to tell your story about our grandfather. If you can, I know Grandma would love a letter from you – she’s having an especially hard time.

Dear Wendy Wendy September 16, 2013, 8:14 am

April, you’re correct. You did post our grandfather’s yearbook picture on your Facebook page first. Your years working in high school journalism have paid off and your Facebook photo montage was lovely.

As for Grandma, I was able to give both her and Grandpa my love when I saw them on Grandpa’s 90th birthday last month (you were missed), and I will pay my respects to them again in person this week.

avatar Sunshine Brite September 15, 2013, 11:10 pm

So sorry for your loss Wendy! Those sound like wonderful memories, thank you for sharing them with us.

avatar d2 September 16, 2013, 12:24 am

This was a wonderful story. I’m sorry for your loss.

avatar lemongrass September 16, 2013, 12:44 am

I’m so sorry for your loss. It sounds like he was a great man with an interesting life. It is so hard to lose a grandparent, especially one you are close to. I hope you can take comfort in that he got to know your son.

avatar Michael F. O'Brien September 16, 2013, 2:14 am

Bravo Wendy! I do believe that you inherited more than just some of Grandpa Jack’s writing ability.

BTW, I taught art and photography at Seoul American High School for thirty-four years and retired in ’97.

Michael aka Mr. O’

avatar Auntie Allie September 16, 2013, 9:28 am

Did you know our Mom, who was a half-time English teacher?
-Allison (aka Wendy’s little sister)

Dear Wendy Wendy September 16, 2013, 9:41 am

Did you have a wife who taught middle school English?

avatar Wendy's Dad September 16, 2013, 10:00 am

I don’t know if Michael will see these questions, but the answer to your questions is “yes”. His wife Arline probably taught your English class, Wendy. And, Allison, he worked with your Mom at SAHS. He and I are FB friends and I guess he caught my link to Wendy’s post. Mr. O, as he was called, taught art and was (and continues to be) quite renowned for his work.

avatar Monika September 16, 2013, 2:17 am

A wonderful tribute. I don’t comment much, but had to say something– Wendy, thank you for sharing your memories of your grandfather. I was holding up okay until I got to the photo with you, Grandpa Jack, and Jackson. Then the tears came. I’m happy that Jackson was able to spend some time with his great grandpa, and he’ll have such a lovely picture to look at when he’s older. God bless, and may your grandpa rest peacefully.

avatar Emsz September 16, 2013, 3:37 am

Sorry to hear about your grandfather, Wendy. From your piece I can tell that you loved him very much :)

Le Pinch Le Pinch September 16, 2013, 5:20 am

Please accept my sympathies for your grandfather. He sounded like a wonderful man who’s legacy lives on through you.

Fabelle Fabelle September 16, 2013, 8:40 am

Aw, this was beautiful, Wendy. I’m sorry for you & your family’s loss— he sounds like he was a great man. (And add me to the list of teary-eyed people.)

avatar mcj2012 September 16, 2013, 9:02 am

This is a beautiful tribute to your grandfather, may he rest in peace.

avatar kerrycontrary September 16, 2013, 9:04 am

I’m sorry for your loss. It seems like he had a life well-lived and that’s all we can ask for. And I think you and Jackson got his nose :)

muchachaenlaventana muchachaenlaventana September 16, 2013, 9:18 am

Today is the 4 month anniversary of my beloved gmas passing. So this is really poignant and beautiful right now. I am incredibly sorry for your loss.

veritek33 veritek33 September 16, 2013, 9:38 am

What a lovely tribute. So sorry for your loss, Wendy. He sounds like a really awesome man.

Lianne Lianne September 16, 2013, 9:47 am

I am so sorry for your loss. Your essay is beautifully written, and I am sure your Grandpa Jack loves it, too. You’ve wonderfully celebrated his life with your words, even in this time of grief.

avatar jottino September 16, 2013, 9:49 am

Your grandpa seems like a very sweet, smart, & loving man. This was such a beautiful story. I hope your & your family’s memories bring comfort, laughter, & peace :)

avatar Girafe September 16, 2013, 10:03 am

Wow. Cue the Monday morning tears. Wendy, I am so sorry for your loss.

Thank you for a beautifully written tribute, it moved me, especially on the eve of the 7th anniversary of my grandfather’s death. It brought back a lot of my own memories with my grandpa.

avatar SGMcG September 16, 2013, 10:31 am

Condolences to you and your family for your grandfather’s passing. Yet how wonderful it is that he left such a lasting legacy – in his writing, in his devotion to your grandmother and in the family they created together. May that legacy give you comfort during this difficult time.

avatar Amanda September 16, 2013, 10:37 am

I’m weeping at my desk; this is so beautiful. Your grandpa was an amazing man, Wendy. May he rest in peace

avatar Nadine September 16, 2013, 10:38 am

I am so sorry for your loss. Your lovely writing must have been such a point of pride for your Granddad.

honeybeenicki honeybeenicki September 16, 2013, 10:39 am

This is so sweet and wonderful. I’m so sorry for your loss. It seems like he was a wonderful man who helped make you into the person you are now. You’ll be able to keep those memories close to you for a long time and when Jackson is older, regale him of tales of this wonderful great-grandfather who would have loved to watch him grow up.

Diablo Diablo September 16, 2013, 10:46 am

Very moving, Wendy. So Sorry for your loss.

avatar bethany September 16, 2013, 11:12 am

Awww. I’m so sorry for your loss, Wendy. What a great tribute, though.

othy othy September 16, 2013, 11:27 am

Wendy – I’m sorry for your loss. He sounds like he was a wonderful man, and a wonderful influence in your life. I can see where you got your desire to write from.

This makes me especially bummed I can’t visit my grandma for her 90th next month (she lives about 2000 miles away). However, my dad is working on setting up a Skype call, so I won’t miss all of the party. To everyone near your grandparents: Go hug them for me!

Jennylou Jenny September 16, 2013, 11:27 am

What a moving tribute to your grandfather – your memories of him are so precious and he sounds like an amazing person. I’m so sorry for your loss.

avatar SpaceySteph September 16, 2013, 12:28 pm

Tears… at my desk. This was beautiful. Rest in Peace Grandpa Jack!

avatar summerkitten26 September 16, 2013, 12:33 pm

Wendy, I’m so sorry for your loss. I am glad that you (and Drew and Jackson) got to spend time with him before he passed. This is a beautiful way to honor him.

avatar allie September 16, 2013, 12:34 pm

I’m sorry for your loss. I also don’t tend to comment much (if ever). But I do love your site and I did want to reach out and express my condolences. You and your family will be in my thoughts during this sad time. I too was moved to tears both with your tribute and with the beautiful poetry penned by your grandfather. I agree with many of the other comments above– you have definitely inherited his writing abilities– evident in both this moving tribute and in your Alphabet history short stories.

avatar Addie Pray September 16, 2013, 1:22 pm

oh the alphabet stories are my absolute favorite!

mylaray mylaray September 16, 2013, 12:34 pm

I’m so sorry for your loss. That was a lovely tribute, Wendy, and it made me tear up a little. I lost my last grandparent recently who also made it to his 90s and it feels like there’s a missing generation in my family now. It’s nice to have writings and memories to look back on.

avatar ktfran September 16, 2013, 12:38 pm

As soon as I read that your grandfather was a writer, I thought “this makes so much sense.” I’m so sorry for your loss. Your grandpa sounds pretty amazing.

P.S., your description of your grandparents house made me smile. You could have described my grandparents house during the holidays – music boxes and snow globes and trees and a tiny little village of people sitting on a table of fluffy white snow.

avatar SpaceySteph September 16, 2013, 1:27 pm

My husband’s parents do that little Christmas village with the fluffy white snow too.

Secret truth: Jewish girls love to help make the Christmas village and decorate trees and all that stuff. I am hardcore about fluffy snow placement. Last time they assigned that to us to do, I was very particular and went around behind my husband prettying up all the places he just glomped it on.

Dear Wendy Wendy September 16, 2013, 1:15 pm

Thank you so much, everyone. Your words are comforting to me and, I’m sure, to my immediate family too. I’m happy to have this platform to pay a small tribute to a man who has meant a lot to me. Thank you for reading.

avatar rickipedia September 16, 2013, 1:26 pm

So sorry for your loss, Wendy. Your tribute to your relationship with your grandfather was just beautiful.

avatar thatgirl September 16, 2013, 1:52 pm

Wendy, I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your grandfather with us.

landygirl landygirl September 16, 2013, 1:53 pm

So sorry for your loss.

Jessibel5 Jessibel5 September 16, 2013, 2:03 pm

That was so beautiful! Lots of love and good thoughts to you and your family!

theattack theattack September 16, 2013, 2:23 pm

Wendy, I’m so sorry for your loss. You look so happy in the photo with him. I admittedly couldn’t read much of this piece because I’m currently trying to hold myself together in the hospital next to my possibly dying grandfather. It hits home too much right now to read it all, but your family is in my thoughts now.

Fabelle Fabelle September 16, 2013, 4:53 pm

Hang in there, you :(

avatar XanderT September 16, 2013, 2:32 pm

Beautiful tribute. Sorry for your loss.

avatar Miss MJ September 16, 2013, 2:52 pm

My condolences, Wendy.

avatar GabbyCat September 16, 2013, 3:04 pm

Wendy, I am so sorry for your loss. Your tribute to your grandfather is just beautiful.

Moneypenny Moneypenny September 16, 2013, 3:20 pm

I’m so sorry to hear about your grandfather. It sounds like he was a pretty fantastic guy! My condolences to you and your family.

avatar April September 16, 2013, 3:25 pm

Wendy, it sucks that I had to move the week of Grandpa’s birthday and missed the party. We missed a lot living in New Mexico, especially as a teacher and reporter with few opportunities to afford travel and really few resources in general. I’m especially sad that we were too late in getting home – Emily’s wedding was going to be our first trip home together since Amy’s wedding. The poem and photo you reposted here were from my personal collection – not any find from the Internet. Grandpa mentioned, in 2007, that you were helping him to get a book of his poetry published. In addition to Winter Rose, which I got from Grandpa in 2007, if you have any of his poetry or photos, would you be willing to share them with me? You have my email address here – I’m working on a memorial video based on time I spent with Grandpa when I lived closer and would love help sharing him through his own words and photos. Looking forward to seeing you this week, despite the sad circumstances.

avatar Captainswife September 16, 2013, 5:39 pm

April, you are clearly grieving. Can I suggest that you keep this private and address with Wendy directly rather than in a public forum? Wendy’s beautiful tribute to your joint grandfather is beautiful, and it is so sad to see your sulling of it through an attempt to…what, exactly? Grab creit? Be acknowledged as the most bereaved?

The poem was written for your grandmother, by your grandfather. It is great that you have it in your personal collection, but that does not imply that you own the copyright. In most families, photos are freely shared and treasured…it is a shame that you feel so protective of an image that happens to have been posted on your Facebook account.

At the end of the day, I am sure that both you and Wendy showed your grandfather how much you loved him. Love is not a competition, nor is it a zero-sum game. May I suggest that rather than venting your spleen here, you pursue your healing privately, and focus on comforting each other as a family?

Best of luck to you. I hooe that you understand what I am trying to convey. You have my sympathy in your loss, and also for your apparent personal issues.

avatar Captainswife September 16, 2013, 5:41 pm

I hate typing on ipads…
*sullying
*credit
*hope

Tracey Tracey September 16, 2013, 3:43 pm

“In one of the stars, I shall be living. In one of them, I shall be laughing. And so it will be, as if all the stars were laughing when you look at the sky at night.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery (“The Little Prince”)

May you always see your grandfather’s eyes, hear his laugh, feel his love when you look to the heavens. Be well, and my sympathies to you and your family.

muchachaenlaventana muchachaenlaventana September 16, 2013, 4:31 pm

this is so beautiful.

avatar HmC September 16, 2013, 3:51 pm

I’m sorry for your loss, Wendy. My amazing grandpa died early last year, and I know how difficult yet simultaneously wonderful it is expressing your love for someone you have so recently lost. Beautiful tribute.

avatar Sue Jones September 16, 2013, 7:04 pm

So sorry for your loss, Wendy. Blessings <3

avatar stickelet September 16, 2013, 7:35 pm

My condolences to you and yours, Wendy. That was a beautiful and moving tribute to your grandpa.

MELH MELH September 16, 2013, 7:51 pm

Sorry for your loss Wendy, your grandpa seems like an amazing man!

avatar BreezyAM September 16, 2013, 7:59 pm

yeah I’m crying too. :-( I can’t even play the dust in the eye line!

*8 million hugs*

goddamn I hate crying in public

avatar Megustalaplaya September 16, 2013, 9:55 pm

I’m so sorry for your loss, Wendy. Grandpa Jack sounds like a wonderful man, who lives on more than a little bit in you. Thank you for sharing your wonderful memories. May they carry you through these sad times.

avatar LANY September 16, 2013, 10:43 pm

Wendy, my thoughts and condolences to you and your family… Your grandfather seemed like an incredible man, and his gift with writing clearly lives on in you. Thank you for sharing this with us.

FireStar FireStar September 17, 2013, 12:37 am

How beautiful. He must be so touched looking down on you. And proud that his talent found a home in the next generation. I’ll keep you and your family in my thoughts. Deepest condolences.

avatar Christy September 17, 2013, 8:36 am

How wonderful to have so much to remember your grandfather by! Wendy, you and your family are in my thoughts.

Cassie CassieB September 18, 2013, 9:09 pm

I am so sorry for your loss. This was a wonderful remembrance and tribute to your grandfather. I will keep you and your family in my thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.

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