The Way You Looked That Night

As a young girl, I never dreamed about my wedding. I didn’t have a box full of cut outs from magazines. I didn’t have an “ideal” setting. Sure, I would have loved getting married along the beach, but not getting married on the beach wasn’t a deal breaker. I also thought of something in the summer because I love hot weather.

But when it came time to get married, my ideas were quite different. My husband and I planned our wedding around his leave from the military. My summer wedding became a February wedding.

When asked what I wanted, I really wasn’t sure. I knew that February was going to call for something indoors and I wanted a relaxed reception. Nothing stuffy. I knew I wanted my dad to walk me down the aisle and I wanted to dance with my grandfather.

Those two things were at the top of my priority list, regardless of how much time I spent looking for dresses and wedding shoes.

Today is my grandfather’s birthday. He is eighty-eight years old. He has been a great papa (as I call him).

This past year hasn’t exactly been his friend. My grandmother, his partner of over fifty years, has suffered some significant health setbacks and she was just recently diagnosed with dementia. My grandfather on the other hand, is doing well physically and mentally (as much as he can, given the circumstances).

He has always been young at heart, and today, I have been thinking about a few of those instances that really shine.

When I was around five years old, he got us enormous squirt guns. I remember playing outside and chasing my papa around their house. I remember yelling “got you!” and blasting him with my squirt gun. And I remember him getting me back quite thoroughly.

At eight, my grandparents took me on a trip to see parts of the western United States. I remember my grandpa playing Hank Williams on the drive out, simply because it drove my grandmother crazy. I remember my papa telling me all about Wall Drug and how excited he was to take me there. Looking at Mount Rushmore at night was another highlight. And one of these days, I am going to go back to Wind Cave, just to feel the air blow backward like it did when the two of us stood at the entrance.

We visited Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes when I was growing up, more than once, on family vacations. My grandpa would run (yes, run) up the dunes with me (and later, my younger cousin as well). Once we reached the top, or at least three-quarters of the way, we’d turn around, face the rest of the family, and begin running (yes, running) down the dune. However, at some point, we’d jump in the air, land on our behinds, and yell “HI-YA!” This could last for hours.

When I graduated with my master’s degree, my parents and my grandparents stuck out the mid-June, Michigan, early humidity and heat to watch me walk across the stage during an outdoor ceremony. Once the graduates were ready to file out, I spotted my family, minus my grandfather. At the instant he heard the music que up to release us, he ran (again, yes, ran) up the hill to the outdoor amphitheater. He wanted to be the first one to greet me once I reached the top as well.  He was quite successful.


(Above: me and my grandfather before we left for graduation)

Then, at twenty-six, I got married.

I made lists for every memorable song and dance, which was, for the most part, fairly easy. My daddy-daughter dance was Rascal Flatts’ “My Wish”, Paul and I would cut our cake while Billie Holiday’s “The Very Thought of You” played, but choosing a song to dance to with my grandfather was tough.

At least I knew it would not be Hank Williams.

I adore Frank Sinatra’s voice. Just like Cary Grant could have read me the dictionary, Frank could have performed the Michigan Bell phone book and I would have love that as much.

“The Way You Look Tonight” was our song.

We danced and he laughed at his footing. He sang parts of the song and looked as overjoyed as I felt.

His sister, my dad’s aunt, told my mom that… that. That was the Elmer she remembered. That man. The one dancing with the bride. He was the Elmer from their youth. It was fun to see him again.

I guess she didn’t know about the water fights and the sand dunes.

Today, on his eighty-eighth birthday, I will listen to our song and recall that perfect moment on that perfect day. I’ll have to remind him of that when I call him later, so amid the chaos and confusion that is his new reality, he can remember it too.

Just the way he looked that night.


(Above: me and Papa at my wedding.)

P.S. He sings just as well as Sinatra ever could.


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