My boyfriend Tor’s grandfather, Bob Greensfelder, died in November at the age of 95. His memorial service was held last Saturday at North Columbia Schoolhouse in Nevada County, California, where Bob had lived for the last 45 years, after spending much of his adult life in the Bay Area, and his childhood in Spokane, Washington, and Wilmington, Delaware. I knew him as Bob G., because Tor’s father, his son-in-law, lives in the same community and is also named Bob.
I saw only the very last years of Bob G.’s life, the remaining part of the submerged iceberg. I knew that his father, a mining engineer turned advertising executive, had died young. I knew he had dropped out of Reed College in the early ’40s to enlist in the navy, not necessarily because he was so eager to fight but because he didn’t want to be drafted into the army. I knew that he revered Robert Crumb’s Mr. Natural, loved and worked in experimental film, and got a beautiful, charismatic woman to marry him and bear him many children.
I crossed paths with him about once every two months, mostly at family things, a handful of times because we saw him alone. He always wore a tan corduroy jacket, a printed red shirt, and an odd ribbon-type tie. He had a beard and beautiful green eyes that seemed to me to be just like
Tor and I were his chaperones on what was probably his last big trip, from Nevada City to his youngest granddaughter’s wedding in Montpelier, Vermont. Before we left Tor and I
Now I certainly do not mean to paint some misty-eyed picture of Bob G. He is exactly the type to have read a lot of Jung and if it never actually occurred to him it certainly should have that the shadow side of such pronounced amiability would have to be rigidness. Bob G. may have loved to stop and smell the flowers but he also loved to correct people, and to be right.
He was very upset some years ago when he watched a mass at the Vatican on television and the Pope walked around in a circle—no one remembers what it
Bob G. was delighted when I told him about Twitter (I don’t think he really got it, not because he was old or stupid but because Twitter is impossible to explain to anyone who isn’t on it) and that Twitter made it possible to write to the Pope’s people about the shameful widdershins business. He also wanted me to write to Round Table Pizza to demand an explanation as to why they called their pizza “The Last Honest Pizza.” I did, I can’t find my tweet. No matter, there are many others.
Bob G. was by no means a heavy drinker. In fact, I have never seen a man who actually enjoys drinking and drinks regularly drink slower than he did. But he took it seriously. He believed white wine was for poultry and fish, etc., and red for heartier meats and sauces. That anyone would order a glass of wine, or, God forbid, a bottle, without having chosen their meal, struck him as tasteless and perverse.
“Oh, it’s OK, we’re just drinking because we’re alcoholics,” I said to him as Tor and I ordered wine before dinner, the night before we went to Montpelier. I was forever trying to make Bob G. laugh, and forever failing.
“Both of you?” Bob G. said. His enormous green eyes were wide with dismay, and tinged with with disgust. “Well if both of you are alcoholics you should SEEK HELP.”
I told him we should, yes, absolutely, after dinner! Tor rolled his eyes at me. “We’re not alcoholics, Grandpa,” he said, and Bob G. sniffed. “Well, I should hope not!”
I had red wine with fish that night and when I explained to Bob G. that it was pinot noir, which was light, and I was eating an oilier fish (I actually don’t really care that much and have no idea if that’s for real but it seemed like a passable explanation) he seemed to relax a little but not entirely.
The thing that Bob G. cared about a lot, and would NOT RELAX ABOUT,was the temperature of
He liked his beer at 57 degrees, many
No argument about
Bob G. started to forget things. He didn’t have Alzheimer’s, just dementia. He became less expert at Jeopardy. He would tell the same story twice within a half hour. He was still
Before going into the home Bob G. lived in a rural community near Nevada City. Every year this community holds a May Day gathering, part of which entails its members gathering in a field, forming a circle, and engaging in rituals combining vague paganism with Norcalness. Bob G. had a tradition of playing a hand drum in the center of the circle for the chant that kicks off the festivities, and in May 2017, it must have felt important for him to attend, even if he wasn’t at his most spry. At the last minute, Tor, who was already out at his parents, near the event, asked if I could go to pick up Bob G. at the home and drive him out. I said I would, it was no problem.
Bob was waiting outside with his walker and one Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. “I brought Sierra Nevada Pale Ale too,” I told him. I went to take his beer and put it in the trunk with our 12-pack, and the food I had packed for everyone.
He held his beer protectively. I don’t remember exactly what he said so I don’t want to make it up. But he made it clear that this was his beer and it was the one he wanted because of temperature and so on. I assured him his beer would be fine and together we made the 45-minute trip, mostly in silence.
Tor had to carry his grandfather up a sizable hill to the May Day celebration, as he had done the year before, and the year before that. Bob G. played the drums that last time. Everyone chanted. Pagan stuff happened. People spoke, both movingly and ridiculously. There was a sort of dance, which I tried to engage in until I decided I didn’t want to sprain my ankle doing something I was so bad at. Tor carried Bob G. back down the hill for the picnic portion of the day.
All the beer had been sitting out, if not in the sun directly, then under a tree on a warm day. I am sure I tried to give Bob G. a relatively warm beer and, feeling them, was pretty confident they were all warm. I know the beer I was drinking, the one that prevented me from being emotionally consumed by the following exchange, was much, much warmer than I would have preferred, so I assumed that Bob G., seated comfortably in a canvas camp chair his daughter, Tor’s mother, had brought especially for him, would find his at least moderately satisfactory.
But no. He began to drink his beer, and then, he began to complain.
“This beer is not the right temperature. Americans drink their beer too cold, you can’t taste anything.”
Tor suggested that he set his beer down for a few minutes.
Bob G. did not like this idea.
“I want to drink my beer at the right temperature,” he insisted. “This beer is too cold.”
I noticed that he was pointing at me. “That woman,” he was saying. “That woman took my beer.”
Tor reminded his grandfather that I had driven him to the party and that I had been his girlfriend for quite some time. “Ask that woman where my beer is,” Bob G. said, giving me one last accusing look. I felt bad and stupid. I couldn’t help it. I also felt like, hey, this is a great moment, sad and interesting and funny. This is what old people do. You will do this one day, and you will not know you are doing it.
Tor’s cousin, Claire Greensfelder, used to drive to Ashland, Oregon, with Bob G. every summer for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. At the memorial service, she told a story about how every summer on the way back they would stop at the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico for dinner. It’s a pretty fancy restaurant, not formal or anything, but expensive, and pretty good. And Bob would always order a beer, and before it came, he would say, “I hope it’s going to be the right temperature!” and then of course, it would be too cold. “Why do they make such good beer if they’re not going to bother serving it at the right temperature?” he would ask Claire and any other companions. They would say they didn’t know. And then they would eat, and Bob G. would entertain other subjects—how they had seen an amazing production of Midsummer Night’s Dream in Ashland the very first year they went and nothing was ever as good as that—or they might talk about what they’d seen on the road—how much snow was on Mt. Shasta that year or how many interesting characters they’d seen at the park where the headwaters of the Sacramento River came gushing out of the ground—but at the end of the meal, he would always take out a little notepad he carried in his shirt pocket and write a note to the manager, something to the effect of: “This place is very good, you have such excellent food, and such excellent beer, but your beer is much too cold. It is meant to be served at 57 degrees, so as to hold its flavor. I shall be back next summer at which time I will look forward to being served a beer at the correct temperature.”
I do not believe in the afterlife, and Bob G. did not either. So I will not say I hope that Bob G. is in Heaven drinking the perfect temperature beer. I will only say that I am grateful to him for having five children and many grandchildren who all believe that Heaven is on
Popula is 100% ad-free, reader-supported journalism accountable only to you. Every dollar of your subscription goes straight to our work. Thank you for supporting Popula.