This is my grandfather, Jimmy. He was a car mechanic, a hunter, a motorcylclist, a lover of children and a lover of the outdoors. More than that, he was my mentor, my teacher, my hiking and sledding partner, my blackberry picking companion, and my best friend. His story is not triumphant. His life wasn’t always beautiful, and there aren’t enough words in the dictionary to describe the character of this man and the love I have for him. But now, two and a half years after his death, I have finally mustered up enough strength to give it a shot.

Grandma and Grandpa’s house on the hill (pictured above) has become a sanctuary to me. A museum of childhood memories. Knowing that every spot on his land has been touched by the both of us at some point in our lives brings me overwhelming sadness and inexplicable joy. Whenever I have the chance to visit, I walk through his now empty garage and remember riding my bike while he worked on vehicles. “Hey kid, what are you up to now?” as he wiped his car grease stained hands with an orange rag and stuffed it in his back pocket. “Want to go for a walk?”

When I hike through the wild and tall unmowed grass of the woods on grandpa’s land, I remember holding an old coffee can of what used to be full of blackberries, and my grandpa’s belly laugh after he noticed that I had eaten them all. Our dog Sasha (also pictured above) would lead the way on our walks together, creating paths that I still remember like the back of my hand. The christmas tree he had planted for me in the backyard has since grown tall and strong, and I can still picture the bulky colored lights twinkling on a cold winter’s night. The front porch is now worn and dusty, but I can picture our walking sticks that grandpa picked out for us leaning on the house. The porch swing on the side of the house was where we spent many summer nights roasting hot dogs and marshmallows over the fire pit he helped me build. In the kitchen, I could see the ghost of him putting his homemade jam into mason jars and handing me a box of them. “Here kid, why don’t you give these out to your friends.”

He was always in a constant battle between his compassion for people and his frustration with the modern world. Always willing to lend a helping hand, but always weary of being taken advantage of. I see now that his house on the hill, as well as his cabin in Maine, were places for him to balance his life. I also see now that all my grandfather wanted in his life was simplicity.

Over the years, Grandpa had suffered a large heart attack and other heart issues. On top of the heart attacks, he was diagnosed with tonsil cancer. Chemotherapy had weakened him in ways I could have never imagined. Witnessing my favorite person on earth brought to his knees by sickness made me feel weak myself. However, he fought through it, and I thank God everyday for the extra time I was given with him.

As I grew older and I became a teenager increasingly involved in the modern distractions that my grandpa disliked so much, we ran out of time. The blackberry picking stopped. There was no more time for walks, or sledding with him on a wintery day. The days of the “Tickle-Monster” and bike riding in the garage were over. We’d have lunch or coffee every now and then, or he’d visit me at work for a quick hug. In October 2012, I found myself crying over a boyfriend at the café where I worked. Right on time, my grandfather pulled into the parking lot in his old truck, and ran over to hug me. On the 22nd of February 2013, my beloved grandfather passed away from heart failure.

Grandpa Jim was weakened by life and became frail from sickness. But when I see his humble smile in this very last picture I know that his heart was full. The memories I have with him were all small simple joys, just like he always strived for. Today at 22, I try to remember the conversations we had instead of the things I never got to say, but I always wish I could have more time with this amazing man. If I could have one more day with him, I would tell him that his traditions and view on life is something I hold so very dear to my heart, that I could really use one of his teddy bear hugs, that life was so much more simple back then, that I love him more than anything, and to ask him; “Hey gramps, do you want to go for a walk?”

But for now, I can ony hope that he’s somewhere by a lake, with our dog Sasha, enjoying the simple life he always wanted.