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It's a 'wunnerful' life

Saturday, December 22, 2012 - Updated: 6:11 PM

When I think of some of the happiest moments in my life, one that immediately comes to mind involves Lawrence Welk and tollhouse cookies.

I was a few weeks into my first semester at a college located about halfway between Somewhere and Nowhere. I never thought I'd be the type to get homesick, considering I'd spent the previous months saying I couldn't wait to fly the home coop.

Shortly after getting settled into dorm life and figuring out which classes I could allegedly afford to skip, I realized how much I missed my family. The problem is my parents were four hours away, and they couldn't just pack up and get me, especially with four younger siblings.

Fortunately, my birthplace of Buffalo was only about 90 minutes away, so arrangements were made for my aunt and grandmother to come and get me. Part of the weekend would involve hanging with my cousin, doing the stuff most 17- and 18-year-olds do on a Friday night (read: be idiots).

The next night was for my grandma and grandpa. Like any college freshman, the initial idea of spending a Saturday with a couple of septuagenarians had anything but "fun" attached to it. Until grandma broke out her homemade tollhouse cookies and grandpa turned on the TV for a re-run of the "Lawrence Welk Show." There I was sitting in their living room, dunking cookies and watching bubbles, and I realized that's exactly where I wanted to be.

It was "wunnerful."

In reality, my extended family had rescued me that weekend, and several years later, I had a chance to return the favor. I was working the night desk at The Leader in Corning, when my mother called to warn me that I was about to get the "strangest phone call" I had ever received in my life.

"Your grandparents are in Corning." For some reason, they'd gone food shopping, had taken a wrong turn out of the parking lot, drove overnight in a blinding snowstorm and wound up 120 miles away -- in a place where I just happened to be at the time. Fortunately, a kindly woman found them, put my grandparents up in a hotel and provided them with fresh clothing. When I got to the hotel, no one could figure out how this had happened, whether it was a combination of the wrong dosage of the medications they were on at the time or a simple case of old age. Most likely, it was a little bit of both.

Yep. Strangest. Phone. Call. Ever.

After having to push their car across the street to fill it up because they'd run out of gas, I brought them back to the very same apartment where I had spent that Saturday night more than a decade earlier, only now it was my turn to rescue them like they had done for me. I've never been happier to return a favor.

Funny sidebar: After getting my grandparents settled in, my grandmother asked about the groceries they bought two days earlier. I opened the trunk of their car, and there sat a bunch of bags of food. Because it was winter, the chill in the air kept the groceries fresh, and not a single thing was spoiled. Ha!

Sadly, my grandfather remembers none of this. He doesn't even know who I am. After the "Corning incident," his mind continued to deteriorate to the point where now, at the age of 93, he doesn't know anyone despite being in fantastic physical shape. I don't see him as much as I'd like since he's living in a facility in Auburn near my parents, a little more than two hours away, and it hurts that I have to introduce myself to him every time I see him. It hurts even more to see my father have to introduce himself to his own dad.

I've always thought my grandpa was larger than life. He's one of the men I'm named for. He's a man who taught me how to fish and play horseshoes, and he used to sneak me custard even after my parents said I'd had enough. But he was also one of the people in my life who always showed me unconditional love no matter the circumstance, even if it meant having an 18-year-old spend an evening watching and listening to music several generations before my time and eating cookies.

I know my grandfather doesn't have much time left in this world, but I'm thankful that I'll have at least one more opportunity to wish him and my grandmother a Merry Christmas next week. He won't know who I am, and he won't know why I'm there, and that really sucks. I hope somewhere in there he knows how much he's meant to me in my life and how much I love him.

And how I'll be forever grateful for Lawrence Welk and tollhouse cookies.

CHARLIE KRAEBEL is editor of the Recorder and hopes everyone out there has a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Contact him at


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