Saying goodbye to my Big Lug

When I was little, we had the amazing fortune to live next door to my mom’s parents for many years. Missing an ingredient? Pop next door to Grandma’s grocery store. Annoying Marm? Go next door. Have a toothache? Go next door. Birthdays. Christmases. Seemingly endless stretches when mom needed a break from our sisterly caterwauling.

When we knocked, grandpa would answer, “We don’t want none” and pretend (?) to shut the door. When we asked for a dish to be passed at the table, he’d growl, “Shut up and eat something close to you.”  A real charmer.

I’m sure that gruffness pushed people away but I found it endearing, most of the time anyway. I don’t remember when, but I started calling him a Big Lug.

I wasn’t kidding. Look at that thing. 

I remember crawling into his lap as he lounged in his big recliner watching TV, marveling that he could get so many channels by moving the satellite dish out back (This was the late 80s, ya’ll. It was ginormous). I remember running to meet him in the late afternoons when he got home from work so I could rifle through his lunch box. Sometimes he saved the snack cake for me. I remember hours playing chess on the set he acquired during his years traveling around the world in the Air Force, and drinking icy Coke out of big dimpled beer steins.

After my grandma passed, I spent many a Sunday waking early and trotting next door to make grandpa breakfast. Two eggs, sunny side up. Bacon. Toast. Coffee. Every time 11-year old me would successfully deliver a plate with unbroken yolks, it was a personal miracle. After breakfast, we’d drive the mile and change to McClellan Air Force Base to bowl at Camellia Lanes. Greasy burgers for lunch and maybe a game of chess after. He eventually bought me my own ball, bag, and towel.

When I was in middle school, we traveled in his blue Aerostar van to Idaho to visit relatives, somehow surviving weeks of him and Aunt Kathy both chain smoking in the front seat. Weeks with his brother Paul’s widow in the town of Gooding. Weeks with his youngest brother, Rick, in Pocatello. We’d tool around Yellowstone with our cousins, then drive to see Uncle Arnold and Aunt Carolyn at their cabin in the Blue Mountains outside of Pendleton, Oregon. On the way home, we drove out of the way through Reno for the treat of a short stay at Circus Circus. Cheap slots and memories of grandma for Lug, endless Midway games for Brenda and me.

As I grew up, I saw Lug less and less for various difficult reasons, but he called regularly, always saying “This is your grandfather, Kenneth.” When I called and he couldn’t tell my voice from my sister’s, I’d say it was his favorite granddaughter. “Brenda?” he’d ask. Whatever sarcastic remarks I gave earned me the title Smart Ass.

My Big Lug passed away a couple weeks ago at age 90. My hope is that he made it to heaven so my grandma can kick his butt while they can catch up on the last 30 years.

Rest in peace, Kenneth Leroy Olson.

While stationed in Europe he met my grandma, Jeannette, who emigrated from Belgium and raised their children, Ann (my Marm), Kathy, and Eric John. Later, he would be stationed in Vietnam, Iran, Japan, and Okinawa, the last where they would live as a family for several years. Pictured here: Grandma, Grandpa, Eric John, wee baby Brenda, and Auntie Trina.
A double veteran, Ken served in the U.S. Navy for two years before joining the Air Force where he served for decades more. Although he would rarely answer questions about his time in the military, he shared a little about his job as a mechanic specializing in aircraft HVAC systems, and sheepishly about that time he left the Navy, allegedly because he got in trouble for oversleeping. That the man who scolded me for “burning daylight” any time we slept past dawn got in trouble for sleeping late always makes me smile.
In addition to his penchant for videotaping family events, Grandpa enjoyed teasing his granddaughters, kissing us without his teeth in (so gross), and tricking us into eating seal salad at the holidays. To a small girl, this was an attractive dish with its pink sauce that she would later realize included pickled fish, hard boiled eggs, and beets. As for birthday cake, Grandpa liked to drown his in milk, a habit he did NOT pass on to his grandkids.
My beautiful Grandma, Jeanne.
Grandpa and Uncle Arnold, who everyone else calls Harry, at Wallowa Lake.
Brothers. Kenneth, Arnold (Harry), and Rick in Walla Walla.
Yes, he sure did try to make me cry on our wedding day, saying he wished Grandma was there.
Of course, he succeeded. Miss you, Lug.

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