A Miller Lite Day
This might be a little overdue. Exactly six years overdue to be exact. But then again, perhaps not. Maybe this piece is right on time.
On November 19th, 2006 my maternal grandfather, Darwin, passed away. He was 78 years old.
A tough SOB til the very end, my grandpa was the epitome of what is fast becoming a dying breed of man. He starred as a leather-helmeted fullback for his high school football team, but passed on a collegiate scholarship to join the Army at the end of World War Two. The war ended shortly after his deployment to the Pacific; I always secretly suspected that the Japanese immediately surrendered upon learning my grandfather was on his way.
Once out of the Army, he married my grandmother Rogene and began working as a pipe-fitter for General Motors in Flint, MI- a job that may no longer exist in today’s economy, in a plant that may no longer exist, either. He and my grandmother raised two daughters: My aunt, Darlene and My mom, Sandy. He worked for GM until an on-the-job injury forced him into early retirement.
My earliest memories of my grandfather were of the summers they would spend in Michigan. I distinctly remember watching Tiger Baseball games together in my parent’s living room. He liked Cecil Fielder, yet could never bring himself to pronounce his first name correctly, no matter how many times he heard announcers Al Kaline and George Kell properly call the Tigers’ slugger by name. “C’Mon Ceecil, get ahold of one!” He would always say in his gravelly voice.
We also would stay up late those summers in the late 80’s and early 90’s, watching the Pistons during the Bad Boys era. During the second of those consecutive championship years, Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson hit a title clinching jumper with under a second to play in game five of the series again the Portland Trailblazers. Excited as an 11-year-old could be who was up way past his bedtime to watch a basketball game on the West Coast, I cheered and looked at my grandfather, only to see his eyes closed and him slumped slightly in the recliner, with a half-full can of his trademark Miller Lite beer still firmly clenched in his hand.
My grandfather was a Man’s Man who always took care of business but never lost his sense of humor – whose grip could compress all the cartilage in the knuckles of men half – or in my case, a third his age. It was all I could to do squeeze back hard enough for him to notice, even if it was out of self preservation as to not get my hand broken. Even the last time I saw him – two days before he died – his grip was still as strong as ever and would never betray weakness, even as he was agonizing inside from the lung cancer that was close to finishing him off for good.
To the very end, my grandfather was a sniper on the pool table – and virtually unbeatable when he wanted to be. A left handed shot naturally, he would occasionally shoot an entire game right handed just to give me a chance of beating him. And in case you’re wondering, yes I defeated him exactly once, on an occasion where I broke and ran the table. The only way to win was to not let him shoot at all.
He liked the Lions and Michigan football, Pinochle and Blackjack. He liked watching my brother and I – his only two grandchildren – participate in our various sports. He also liked to watch game shows like ‘The Price is Right’ and ‘Wheel of Fortune’ with my grandmother. He loved his family and he was proud of everyone. He was proud of his girls and the men they would marry. He was grateful for the help from my mom and dad during the last two years of his life, and he was equally appreciative of the fact that they lived close enough to provide the help my grandmother would need after he was gone.
And of course he loved his beer. The default preference was Miller Lite, a choice born out of necessity after he and my grandmother moved back to Michigan from Arizona and their previous brand was no longer available.
I am writing this not because I thought his life story would be overly fascinating to anyone who never knew him – but because he still matters. His legacy lives on through his kids, grandkids and great grandchildren who could do a helluva lot worse for a role model.
So this day, November Nineteenth, as it’s been for the past five November Nineteenths, is a Miller Lite day. Not really about the beer – but a salute to a man who matters today as much as he did while he was alive. And more than that, it’s a salute to grandparents. So I raise a shiny blue aluminum can and I encourage you to do the same.