Home > Movies, Navel Gazing > A Life Lived in the Light

A Life Lived in the Light

I only remember going to see three movies with my grandfather. None of the three was much of a success. I’m sure there were some films when I was very young: E.T. and Sleeping Beauty come to mind for some reason, but at that age I was so happy for bright lights and popcorn it didn’t really matter what I was watching or who I was with.

The first one I remember seeing was Back to the Future Part II. The year was 1989 and I was stoked beyond belief for this flick; the original BttF was the first PG entertainment I remember enjoying, and the marketing blitz for Part II was overwhelming to a 10-year-old (remember Pizza Hut’s Solar Shades?). It was afternoon on New Year’s Eve, and my parents and I went to see it at the old North Town Mall theater. We took my grandparents. For starters, they were prone to talking–loudly–through movies anyway. Second, Back to the Future Part II is a terrible film to see if you haven’t seen Back to the Future Part I. My folks and I left the theater confused by the plot; Nonee (my name for my grandmother) and Pop left the theater convinced we had slipped them drugs, though in firm agreement that that Michael J. Fox was a very nice-looking young man.

The second film was The Fugitive. My cousin Jason was in town and The Fugitive TV series was one of my grandfather’s favorites. I remember him being very excited and enjoying the show, at least until a tornado shut down the movie and forced us all to take shelter for an hour or so. We finished the movie, but half of us were asleep by the time the credits rolled.

Our final trip to the theater was in 1996 (I think). It was my first summer working at the Campbell 16 theater, my go-to summer job in high school, and The Island of Dr. Moreau remake, starring Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando, had just come out. Because Pop enjoyed the original story and 1977 version starring Burt Lancaster (and because I was very much of a mind to show off my employee comp tickets whenever possible) I took him to see it. What a horrible mistake. The film would have been abhorrent even without the bizzare costumes and that rave scene with animal-people rutting all over the screen. I’m sure Pop had no idea what he was watching, or at least had the decency to not act appalled, and for that I am thankful. He thanked me for the tickets and never asked me to go see another movie. To my knowledge it was the last movie he ever went to see in a theater, though I could easily be wrong. With girlfriends and college on my doorstep (and our all-too-infrequent outings soon to be dominated by baseball games at Price Cutter Park, and then Hammons Field), I have certainly never seen another one with him.

Our lack of time spent in a dark movie theater feels appropriate, though. My relationship with my grandfather has been one I’ll remember for light. I’ll remember hot summer days at the lake, crisp spring afternoons at the ballpark, warm summer evenings in his garden, and bright mornings at Ozark City Hall when I was a boy (those mornings smelled of coffee and, when he would walk me around the garage where they parked the city’s fire trucks, diesel fuel). The light is figurative, as well: My grandfather baptized me. He performed my wedding ceremony. He prayed over a good majority of my holiday meals and is the guiding light in our family, the one person who everyone rallies around and looks to when times are less than perfect. His light is no less bright in the lives of the thousands of students, servicemen, parishioners and city patrons he has served in his multitude of careers.

This trip down memory lane is bittersweet, and necessary. I choose entertainment for this particular bit of navel-gazing because it has become my currency on this blog, for better or worse. It’s a language to speak. As many of you who love him well already know, Pop is in inpatient Hospice at St. John’s. He fell on Thursday in his apartment in Ozark and was admitted to the hospital for a not particularly serious-seeming gash on his forehead. He was walking and talking, if a bit loopy, on Friday. And on Saturday he never woke up.

Doctors tell us the bleeding and swelling and other complications from the fall are simply too much for a Parkinson’s-ridden 89-year-old man to overcome. He is being kept comfortable with family by his side at all hours, and we stand ready to be with him in his final moments, if at all possible, whenever they may come.

While you’re always prepared for something like this when someone is as old and frail as Pop, the suddenness of this injury has been surprising, and I haven’t quite figured out my feelings about what is going on. That time will come.. My mother, who has been his main caretaker for much of the last four years, is foremost in my thoughts right now, though everyone has a special connection with him. I am grateful for my own memories, the time I have been able to spend with him living so close (I grew up across the street). I am happy he was able to meet his great-granddaughter, who I’ m sure he would have one day addressed as “Sally.” I am enjoying flipping back through those mental files, even if I am not enjoying the current. hopefully brief, limbo before all of Ozark (and beyond) can help us celebrate.

This is not a unique story. Everyone loses family members. If they’re lucky, they lose grandparents that we all love as much as I love Pop. I will have more to say about him, but this bit of sharing just sort of spilled out tonight. Into the light.


Categories: Movies, Navel Gazing
  1. February 2, 2012 at 10:13 am

    Matt, I’m so sorry to hear about your grandfather, but so glad to hear you say that you have great memories. My grandparents were gone by the time I was born, and I’ve always felt I missed out. So glad you cherish the times you could laugh and cry together, and hunker down in a tornado shelter!

  2. February 2, 2012 at 11:01 am

    Could I have used the word “film” more times? Usually pretty good about mixing in a thesaurus… oy.

  3. February 2, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    It’s good you have many pleasant memories with your grandfather playing an active role. He sounds like a cherished treasure!
    Thanks for sharing this!

  4. Denise Kelly
    February 2, 2012 at 11:11 pm

    What a beautiful tribute to your pop. Undoubtedly, spending time with him and his influence helped shape your talent for writing and your appreciation for the sacredness of life. I know he is proud of you. We are all with you (prayerfully) as you wait beside him. Thank you for sharing.

  5. jeffhoughton
    February 2, 2012 at 11:34 pm

    Matt, that was beautiful, a great tribute.

  6. February 6, 2012 at 11:26 pm

    Everyone who was blessed to know Neal and Betty Grubaugh have great memories. And when reminiscing, it doesn’t take long until the thoughts erupt into laughter. They were so realistic, bright, down-to-earth and funny!!!! It was my honor to have worked with Mr Grubaugh at Hillcrest High School from 1969 until he retired. Thank you, Grubaughs, for all you have done for so many people. I love you both (and your darling daughter, of course.) God Bless Them Both.

  7. Susan McCall
    February 8, 2012 at 8:34 am

    Matt, thanks for sharing your memories of a man we all love. He baptized both of my children and performed a marriage for me. Love to you and your family.
    Susan McCall

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