Today I am mourning one of the greatest men I've ever known in my entire life; my Pepere. (For those not in the know, we French Canadians call our grandparents Memere and Pepere.) For as long as I can remember Pepere was someone whom I admired and loved tremendously. Growing up he was the kind of grandfather who used to love to play with us and joke around. Whenever we would go up to Claremont to visit Memere and Pepere we all used to fight over who got to sit next to Pepere at the dinner table because he was so much fun. His favorite trick was to steal our milk when we weren't looking and hide it under the table and it took us years to figure out just how he did it (there was a wooden board under the table he put it on).
As I grew and learned more about Pepere I just developed such admiration for him as a man and as a father. Seeing how much he sacrificed for my mother and the rest of his children has always amazed me and continues to be a standard I'll probably never be able to live up to. He truly was the personification of what we call "The Greatest Generation". He was the first generation in my family to be born in the US and he served his country in the US Navy during WWII (In fact he was on a ship off the coast of Iwo Jima as they raised the flag).
Through high school and college I took French classes and I relished every opportunity to sit with Pepere and practice with him. I left for Europe 10 years ago and haven't seen Pepere since then, except at my wedding in 2002. He was already going downhill by that time and it saddened me to see someone who I knew as so energetic and full of life have trouble with simple tasks. In the years since then his health has continued to deteriorate but the news my mother would send said his mind was as sharp as ever, even if his body was failing him. So his passing wasn't a surprise to any of us, it had been a long time coming.
Looking back, I guess I never really got a chance to tell Pepere how much I respected and admired him and I'll always regret that. They just don't make 'em like Pepere anymore. I can only hope to be one tenth the man that he was.
Au revoir Pepere, you were one of the greatest men I've ever known and I'll miss you.