An old man passed away from natural causes this week in upstate New York and was buried in a baseball cap and a short-sleeved button-down. He wasn’t rich, famous, or powerful, but he was a good man. His name was John Fleming and he was my grandfather.

My Grampy was what most people think of when they think of a classic American man. He worked hard, went to church every Sunday and didn’t talk much. In fact, when I was 7, he told me that if I kept talking at the rate I did, I would run out of words by the time I was 14. So far I have not run out, but I have slowed down a bit (this may surprise anyone who has had the misfortune of meeting me in person).

Grampy was introverted to the point of hermitage. After a long career as a union electrician, he retired to his basement workshop and took up various projects. He became a champion basket-weaver; built ships in bottles and model airplanes; and hand-wove wool scarves in his authentic clan tartan. Even after he moved to a long-term nursing home, he somehow got hold of a train simulator computer program and played around with that all day.

He met Lois Greuling when she was 18 and he asked her to marry him. She wasn’t ready yet. He drove through the night to try to get her back, but he fell asleep at the wheel and had a vision of the Virgin Mary telling him to get off the road before he killed himself (I cannot emphasize enough how Catholic this man was). They went their separate ways.

Grampy married, had five children, and divorced. Lois Greuling became Lois Spencer, and then Lois Lent. She had one child (Julia) with her first husband, who died tragically young, and two children (Barbara and Patrick) with her second husband, who otherwise was a bit of a dud. When she ended up back home in Argyle, New York, her mother gave John Fleming a call to let him know that Lois was back in town – older, wiser, single and with three young children in tow. Grampy went over the next day with his toolbox to fix a leaky sink, and that was that.

When I say John Fleming was a hard worker, I’m not kidding. He courted my Grammy by fixing up things around her old house. (Now that I’m a homeowner, I find the fact that he wooed her with home repairs even more romantic.) He already had five children himself from his first marriage but, seeing three more kids who needed a dad, stepped up to the plate. He adopted my grandmother’s children wholeheartedly, and in my mom’s case, legally, which is how a young Julia Spencer became the Julia Spencer-Fleming we know today. Grampy is the man who showed me that blood isn’t what makes a family; love and labor makes a family.


People have told me and my mother that we’ve been lucky in our choice of male partners, but it hasn’t been a matter of good luck. It’s a matter of good example. Grampy demonstrated, day after day, year after year, what it meant to treat a woman with genuine respect. He respected Lois’ intellect (which was sharp) and her independence (which was stubborn) – all the more impressive because both of them came of age at a time when men were expected to be the senior partners in a marriage. Their marriage wasn’t without its arguments, because 42 years is a long time to spend in a bungalow with another person, but it set a high bar.

When Grammy died in 2018, Grampy was heartbroken. I think he had always wanted to go first so he wouldn’t have to live without her. Still, he said, at least this way Grammy wouldn’t have to go through the death of a husband again. Throughout their marriage, whenever one of them would so much as leave to go to the store, they would give each other a quick smooch and say “Love you, miss you.” I’ve been told marriage is about little things and small gestures. That’s one little thing that’s stuck in my head my whole life.

Grampy was completely Catholic and Grammy was extremely Episcopalian, but if both of those religions share the same Heaven, I have no doubt John and Lois are together again. They are buried side by side in the same plot that Grammy arranged for years ago (I assume there was a sale). Love you, miss you, Grampy.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @mainemillennial

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