I’ve had a few nicknames — none that really stuck, which was probably a good thing considering the Peppermint Patty one from college which I’d just as soon forget. One nickname though that does resurface every now and then in my extended family is one I don’t ever want to forget. In fact, I need to remind myself of it more often.
The nickname is Old Reliable. It was given to me by Grandfather, Padee, which was actually a grandparent nickname of sorts that his grandchildren gave him. Padee (pronounced Pa-D) is short for Grandpa Deitz, which was the very formal name he gave himself, but it never stuck.
It was fitting that he’d want such a formal grandparent name as legend has it, he was a formal man. Almost everyone I knew (except for family and a few very close friends) called him Dr. Deitz, giving props to his well respected reputation as an Orthopedic surgeon which he took so much pride in. He wore a jacket and tie (bow tie so it wouldn’t get in the way of him seeing patients) nearly every day.
He introduced himself to my friends as Dr. Deitz, although over time, they started to call him Padee. They couldn’t not. They couldn’t not grow to love him. Padee’s formalities slipped away later in his life. Once retired from his beloved profession, he loosened up, especially around his grandchildren. And he also took so much pride in them — in us.
Padee told us that he kept a file on each of us. I didn’t believe him until after he died, and I found my file. In it was the research paper I wrote about him for a college class called Recent American History. It was about how his own life was affected by the Great Depression, World War II and the Baby Boom. When I interviewed him for the paper, he recorded us with his Dictaphone which he previously used for notes on medical diagnoses. Also in my file, were old pictures, a newspaper clipping of my wedding announcement and a thank you note my husband wrote to him for a birthday present Padee had given to my husband shortly after we were married.
I still have my file. It’s in the back of my basement in a box of old pictures and the like. I sometimes look at it, and I can hear Padee’s voice in my head as I read through it. “Old Reliable” he used to call me. I was the most reliable grandchild by his account. The other grandchildren held other worthy titles — “the most” in several categories which Padee carefully and thoughtfully defined. I earned my title by visiting Padee regularly, calling him often to check in – and always after I landed or arrived home to my apartment from a trip no matter how big or small. When he picked up the phone, I could hear him smiling and shaking his head with approval.
“Thank you for checking in my dear,” he’d say. And then no matter what I told him, what report I gave him, he thought it was “just wonderful”, “so terrific” and then he ended the call with “thank you for calling, my friend.” He called all his grandchildren “my friend.”
He died at age 93 having lived a full and healthy life. He was sick for just a few weeks before he died. On one of my visits to him when he was sick and homebound, I brought him a half gallon of milk as my aunt had told me that he needed some in his fridge. He looked up from his seat at his small kitchen table, examined the container and proudly exclaimed “good expiration date. Nice job, Old Reliable.” I think of him every time I pick out milk at the grocery store.
I think of him so often — maybe more than I should. After all, I am 44-year-old grown woman with a family of my own whose grandfather lived to see me into my adulthood. But then I remember that no matter how long we have someone with us who we love, it’s never enough. We are never ready to let them go.
I think of Padee because I know he would be so proud of everything I’ve ever done or said or thought or wrote or made — even the stuff that is not at all impressive, the most mundane, every day, getting through life kind of stuff.
The Padee I knew, saw the best in me. He appreciated the little things I did. And I know that more often than not, I need to see what Padee would see in me — especially when I am so far from seeing it, when I am being way too hard on myself.
I can just imagine Padee (who would be 110 if he were still alive today) sitting on my grownup family room couch commenting with genuine pure joy and enthusiasm on my son’s professional sports acumen or my daughter’s latest school art project. He’d ask with real curiosity about how my husband installed a wireless speaker in our family room (he read the directions) or how I made the gourmet dinner in our kitchen (I threw a bag of Trader’s Joes’ frozen chicken in a pan.)
I am not perfect, far from it, but to Padee I was pretty damn close or at the very least pretty damn reliable. That’s something. That’s a gift he gave me, and I will never let it go. Not ever.