I remember the first time I met Todd’s grandpa, Elmer. I was at Sportsmans’ Bar where Todd and I met years earlier. We were only friends at the time, and I was used to seeing him and his uncles come up for a drink after hunting. I had grown to love this group of guys. I have seen close families before, but the Schupbach’s have something different, special even. There is nothing fake or forced about their love for each other. There is no sense of obligation to hang out together or do something kind for one another other. They genuinely enjoy each other and will go above and beyond for any member of their family. They are warm and welcoming, and within five minutes of meeting any family member you are instantly in love and jealous of their family dynamic. One of the hardest things about losing Nash was knowing how loved he was and would always be. How lucky he was to be born into such an amazing family.
The day I met Elmer, the guys came up after hunting for their usual beer. Only this time, in walked the cutest older man I have ever seen. He took small steps, what I would call a quick shuffle. He also had the slightest lean to the right as he walked due to his bad back. Other than that, you would never know he was 83 years old. His smile could fill a room. He had this sunny, carefree, tender disposition about him. His eyes were this very light blue color, and with one look you could see right into his kind and gentle soul. He was lovable and warm, and within seconds of talking to him, it was evident where his family got their closeness from – their patriarch. He sat at the bar, having a beer with the guys. Sipping his beer from a small glass, I asked Todd who he was and he looked at me shocked and said, “That’s grandpa Elmer! Everyone knows Grandpa!” They all looked at me stunned. Not just the family, but my local friends as well. It felt almost embarrassing to not know. He had a light about him, and you just wanted to stand in some small fraction of its glow.
I found myself enamored by him. He treated everyone like they were the most special person in the room. I told Todd I was in love and he said, “Get in line.” I asked him to dance and he said, “Only if you play a song I like.” I requested the song “Crazy” by Patsy Klein and grabbed Grandpa by the hand and pulled him to the dance floor. He made me feel instantly loved, and over the years, I have realized he had a way of making everyone feel that way, especially the ladies. Oh, how he loved the ladies, whether it be a granddaughter, niece, friend or daughter. Women were beautiful to him and he did not pretend to hide his love and affection for their beauty. I remember sitting next to him at Christmas with all his granddaughters chatting nearby. He said, “Those are my girls, and not a one of them is ugly.” I could have made a hobby out of watching him watch his family. I have never seen a man more in love with his family, and I have never seen a family more in love with one man.
Grandpa lived in the country by himself and it was a regular thing for his children and grandchildren to brainstorm how to get wood for his stove delivered, food for his pantry or clothes purchased. Whenever he would inquire about one small thing, they all rallied together to get him whatever he needed. He would never dare ask for anything and he never had to.
Although I love to sing, it’s not something I have ever been comfortable doing in front of a lot of people. I’m shy and insecure about it. Todd only knew I could sing because he had overheard me. He asked if I would sing at our wedding and I told him, “No way! Sing in front of hundreds of people?” Half of my family didn’t even know I sang because I would never do it in front of people. I thought about it a lot and I knew if I did, it would make Todd happy, so I practiced whenever I was alone and told the DJ ahead of time that I may or may not sing at our wedding depending on how much liquid courage I had. I felt safe this way. If I didn’t sing, no one would know the difference. If I did, Todd would be pleasantly surprised. Well, I’m proud to say I did it. I sang, “At Last”, by Etta James. I pulled off a surprise my husband still talks about to this day. There was only one person happier than Todd and that was Papa Elmer. He practically ran to the dance floor when I was done and grabbed both my hands with the biggest smile and told me how much he loved that song and how I sang it.
People who know Elmer know that he is a bragger when it comes to his family. If you have a talent, it WILL be exposed! I didn’t realize that by singing at our wedding, I now needed to start getting comfortable singing in public because Elmer was going to make me sing every chance he got, and he did. It was a Friday night ritual to head up to the VFW for the fish fry. In typical Schupbach style, there would always be aunts, uncles, grandchildren, and great grandchildren there. We always had the biggest table, with Elmer at the center, smiling proud. Not only were we all there every Friday, but half the family worked it, cooking in the kitchen. We would joke about how everything we are a part of gets taken over. Anyway, we would follow up dinner by heading to the adjoining clubhouse. It’s an older bar, with dim lighting and pictures of veterans all over the walls. Everyone there knew us by name, yet Elmer introduced us all the time, usually with some sort of description. For example, this is my grandaughter Shelly, the singer. This is my great grandson Nash, my first grandson to carry on the Schupbach name. Whenever he would introduce us you would always see that tender grin and twinkle in his eye.
I’m not sure if the VFW started it, or Grandpa asked, but before long there was karaoke on Fridays as well. Grandpa would stay however long it took for me to build up courage to sing, even if it was midnight. As the years went on though, he grew tired of waiting and would actually put in his requests. I would be sitting there eating and the DJ would say, “Shelly is next, and she will be singing ‘Grandpa’ by the Judd’s”. I would look at Gramps and he would just smile, jump up and say,”I’ll go with you!” I cannot tell you how many times I have sang that song at the VFW with papa Elmer holding my hand. The first time I sang it, everyone was tearing up, including Grandpa. God, I loved that man.
Todd and I didn’t know if Nash was going to be a boy or a girl when we were pregnant. We wanted to be surprised. If it was a boy, it wouldn’t be Elmer’s first grandson, but the first to carry on the Schupbach name. He kept telling me that he didn’t care if it was boy or girl, but he would introduce my belly to everyone at the VFW as his grandson. When I had Nash, there was no denying the love Grandpa had for him. The way they would look at each other was something to see – like they had a secret no one else knew but the two of them. Every chance Grandpa got, he would visit. He has what we call a Papa-Elmer-swing. He has done it with all the grandchildren; it’s a tradition. He would hold them in his hands like a swing and then bend over to swing them between his legs. Poor Grandpa, his namesake just had to be 11 pounds at birth. He had to do his swing though, and as much as we were all nervous, he did it and smiled ear to ear the whole time.
Nash’s death took its toll on Gramps. He told my father- in-law it was the hardest thing he had ever been through, and that is saying something coming from a vet who has also lost his soulmate. He had a hard time not crying when he would see Todd and I. He lost a bit of that twinkle in his eye. Elmer is so well known in Fenton, that when I hear people talk about Nash, they say, Schupbach? That’s got to be Elmer’s grandson.
I remember standing at Nash’s casket crying, and grandpa came up behind me and put his arm around me. He looked at Nash and placed his hand on his forehead and said, “What a guy! What a guy!” Then he looked at me and told me how sorry he was. I told him, “I’m sorry for you Grandpa. You lost your grandson.” He said, “Don’t be sorry for me. I get to see him soon; you have your whole life ahead of you.” When “Nash Day” started happening and people started to do random acts of kindness, someone bought my Grandpa his morning coffee at his usual hot spot, Cafe Aroma. He said that the waitress told him to have a “Nash Day.” He told me this with tears in his eyes, but with that same pride he always had when talking about his children or grandchildren.
Grandpa drove and lived on his own up until a couple days before he left this world for Heaven. The day before he passed, we were leaving the hospital for the night and were telling Grandpa we would see him later. He reached up for Crue’s hand, smiling through his oxygen mask. We had given him a clipboard to write on because the mask made it difficult to understand him. We said we loved him and he wrote on the paper, “Take care and I love you all the most.” That was Elmer, always thinking about his family. His wife had always told the grandchildren and him, “I love you more”. And here he was fighting for his life, using all the energy he could muster to make sure we knew he loved us most. He led a life most would envy. He was a World War II Vet, an artist, an inventor. I could go on and on about his accomplishments and never do him justice. His proudest accomplishments, though, was always his family. He was a loving husband, Dad, Grandpa and Great Grandpa.
He was a family man and in his final moments, he was surrounded by all of them. In a hospital room that was standing room only, all holding him and telling him how much they loved him….he took his final breaths. He leaves behind a legacy none could match, and along with it, many broken hearts. I have never had as much peace as I had the day Papa Elmer died. I have a great comfort knowing he is with Nash. I selfishly was excited for the day they would finally be reunited and Nash would have a familiar face on other side. I’ve heard it said that Heaven is made up of all the things you loved in life. I can’t imagine a Heaven for Grandpa without a grandchild, and now he has one to play with for eternity. One that he can brag about endlessly. People have experiences in life. Their wedding day, birth of their children, loss of loved ones. Some even experience miracles. I’m proud to say, I have experienced the Schupbachs. I have experienced Papa Elmer. God speed Papa Elmer, give Nash a kiss for me. Oh, don’t forget, we love you more!