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Boers: Grandkids Help Painful Memories Pass

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By Terry Boers-

(CBS) For some strange reason, there are but two very distinct things I remember about my earliest years of life.

The first involves being pushed down an impossibly dark street in what I would later find out was Chicago Heights. I recall being warm. Really, really warm, as in I was so swaddled in blankets I wanted to scream and most likely did. Whether I actually did protest, I don’t remember. But baby got back sweat.

I know this only because many years later I overheard my mother say to my aunt that she believed she might have used just a few too many blankets on me when I was a baby. You think? And to this day it hasn’t changed. Warm by nature — or perhaps nurture — I don’t much go for the as-many-blankets-as-possible thing, even during this miserable winter.

The other memory gets far more painful for me as time passes.

I recall it being a bright, sunny winter day. I’m guessing I was 2 or 3 years old at the time, although I can’t be positive.

It was just me and my dad in the car, and that in itself was unusual. My mom always rode shotgun, but not this time.

I couldn’t tell you how far we drove. But then, what kid does know?

The next memory from that long-ago day was walking into what had to be a nursing home. The place was permeated with a smell that I would later figure out was some type of powerful disinfectant. A few minutes later, we took a seat on a well-used couch and soon an old, sickly man in a wheelchair was pushed in front of us.

To this very day I can still smell the liniment that he seemed to have bathed in. He had a gray blanket around his withered legs and a brown blanket on his shoulders. After that, my slate has been blank for 60 years. I can’t remember our conversation or even anything my dad said to him.

As we were getting ready to leave, my grandfather reached out to me with his arms outstretched. I went to him for a hug.

That was the last time I saw the only grandfather I ever knew, albeit briefly.

My dad, a guarded type to begin with when it came to his family, never said another word about that day. At least that’s what I think. I don’t remember him even telling me that his father had passed away. I know for sure that I was never at any wake or funereal. And, truthfully, it never occurred to me until many years later how nice it would have been to know my grandfather better then a half-hour or so visit.

I did have my sainted grandmother on my mom’s side of the family, but I have no idea who — or where — my grandfather was. I suppose I could check now, but there’s not much point to it.

For all I know, he might have been alive the entire time I was a kid, but then again maybe not. People of that generation didn’t have near the life expectancy that we do today, and many of them had little use for doctors, no matter how awful they felt.

They were, indeed, the Greatest Generation, but they were mule-headed to a fault, including my dad.

I still get those images and many others whirring in my mind every once in a while these days. It still saddens me to think of what I missed, especially now that I am a grandfather of five.

The oldest, Tyler, was born on St. Patrick’s Day in 2003, sending a jolt through our lives that remains fresh on the occasion of his 11th birthday.

Quickly, let’s do the grandparents’ check list.

Do we dote on them? Absolutely.

Do they get whatever they want? Yes.

Do they get things they don’t even ask for? Go ahead and put in mark in that box, too.

But then we’re just fulfilling that mission statement we set the day Ty was born. We wanted to spoil the hell out of him. We’ve done that. And the four others have received the exact same treatment.

I don’t suppose either of my grandfathers would have been in any position to fulfill my every whim. I don’t think I even had a whim. My grandmother used to do the best she could, but that mainly consisted of a candy bar here and there or perhaps a dollar bill.

It’s a good thing that I never wasted much time thinking about the things I didn’t have when I was a kid. I didn’t know the difference.

But this I do know. Whenever I get that last hug from Tyler, at least it won’t be the first.

A longtime sportswriter for the Chicago Sun-Times, Terry Boers now co-hosts The Boers and Bernstein Show, which can be heard Monday-Friday from 1p.m.-6p.m. on 670 The Score.