My Grandpa, Carl Hutchings, was born on December 10, 1932. He died on May 14th, 2013 due to injuries sustained in an automobile accident.
He drove off a cliff. The doctors that examined him said that he had a massive stroke, but they couldn’t tell if the stroke was caused by the accident, or caused the accident.
My grandpa was stubbornly independent. He had been fighting depression for many years, and had stopped taking care of himself, so his health had started failing, and it seemed highly likely that in not too much time, he would be unable to live on his own anymore. There’s no proof either way, but my gut instinct tells me that he decided he would not stand for that, and drove off that cliff intentionally.
If it weren’t for the incredibly timely arrival of a team of volunteer emergency workers, he would have died that day. As it was, they managed to keep him alive long enough to get him to a level 1 trauma center. His children and I traveled to Las Vegas to be with him and decide what to do from there. Ultimately, his wishes not to pursue extreme measures were honored, and they removed him from life support. Two of his three sons (my uncles), his daughter (my mother,) and I were there with him while he died.
I had a very special relationship with my grandpa. I was the oldest of his grandkids by six years, and he and my grandma helped my mom raise me while she went to school to become a nurse. He thought of me as one of his kids, and he was my father figure. I feel like I understood him in a way that I’m not sure anyone else did, and because of that, I am not only ok with the idea that he intentionally drove off the cliff, but I’m proud of him for it. He took control. If I’m ever in a place where my independence is compromised, I may well make the same choice, to be honest. Let’s hope that choice never comes up.
My grandpa was a good ol’ boy. He had old fashioned (read: intolerant and very likely racist & sexist) views of things. But despite that, he was very kind-hearted, gentle, and accepting. He and my grandma used to leave their back door unlocked just in case someone in need of shelter came around.
Grandpa was good at anything he put his mind to. He restored old cars beautifully, had one of the best baritone/bass voices I’ve ever heard, learned to paint in his later years, built houses… He was smart, but not intellectual. He was stern but not mean. One of my uncles told this story while we were in Las Vegas:
When dad owned the hardware store, and I was working with him as a teenager, one time, he ordered a pallet of glass. It was in the back of the truck that I had helped unload, so when we started unloading, he reminded me to be careful with the glass when I got to it, then went to the front of the store to help customers. I unloaded the truck, and when I got to the pallet of glass, I was ready to be done. As I was guiding the forklift into the back door of the store, I neglected to lower it enough that the glass would clear the entrance. The entire pallet of glass broke.
When dad went to the back and discovered the broken glass, he didn’t say a word to me, just walked out of the store, and went to the cafe down the street. After a few hours, he came back and quietly asked me to please clean up the glass and be more careful in the future. He never yelled.
Another story about how he would react when most normal people would scream and curse comes from my mom:
When he had just finished painting the 5 ton truck he used to haul store supplies, it was parked opposite the driveway at their new house, to ‘cure’. To let the paint harden before he used it, for a couple of days. It was a beautiful reddish purple, if I remember right. I was there visiting, and jumped in my car to leave and punched it backward right into the side of the cab of that truck! They lived in that rural area, and I didn’t even look out the back, there’d never been anything there before. So it not only ruined the paint job, but bashed in the body. I was devastated and inconsolable. He was so gentle and did not even bat an eye. He just let me off the hook in such a beautiful way. He had a way of being honestly disturbed, but he wouldn’t blame. He would have said something like, “Oh, boy. (And he would have rubbed the side of his head, and his jaw). Well, you couldn’t have seen it, I should have parked it somewhere else”.
That was my grandpa. A couple years before his death, during a holiday visit, he sat down with me and my mom, and we went through a box of pictures with him. They were pictures of his time in Korea, near the 38th Parallel. The stories he told were heart-breaking, because we could see the effect that being in such a brutal environment had on him. It hurt me to think of the kind, tender young man that he was having to face such death, unkindness, and pain. While he was there, his mother passed away, and he was unable to get home to say goodbye to her. He never stopped missing her, and I think even feeling guilty because he wasn’t there, even though he didn’t have a choice.
My grandpa was not particularly emotive. He would reply with an uncomfortable chuckle and a mumbled “yeah, ok,” nine times of ten that you told him you loved him. His love showed through in his actions. He loved when family was around, and seemed most content when everyone was gathered, chatting and just being together.
I didn’t talk to him all that often, really, but I do miss his presence in the world.
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