I knew by the intonation of my Dad's voice that Grumpa Stan had died. It was the 30th of this December. As I walked into the hospital in Las Cruces, New Mexico, I had expected him to look frail. I was unprepared for the week's length of white growth on his surprisingly youthful cheeks. I had never seen him any way but clean-shaven. For the first time in his life, he looked his age - eighty-five years this past October.
That week, Christmas, in between the visits to the hospital and my Uncle’s house, I read him the logbook of my ocean-rowing trip. I turned each page one-handed while holding his hand with my other one. It took about an hour and a half to go through the log. Most of them were boring notations of daily life on the ocean and our location on the ocean interspersed with a few gems of genuine reflection. As I got towards the end of the log, I began to get a flush of emotion while reading the last few lines. My teammate Greg's last entry minutes after we crossed the finish line was "History. Family. Triumph. Friendship. Trust." I forced the first two words out and stopped. My voice quivered. Those words had meant a lot on the boat, and now sitting in the sterile hospital room beside my Grandfather’s bed, they struck me once again. His eyes were closed, but he griped my hand tight. My cheeks flushed, and the words "history" and "family" sat thick in my mouth. I paused between sobs and finally chewed them out. He was both, and though I did not know he was to die a few days later, I was already missing him.
My grandfather, Stan Hanssen, was and remains a huge reason why I travel. It was easier to name the places he had not been than the places he had. There were more miles on him than Alexander the Great. He loved travel, old naval books, antique firearms, Puccini's Tosca, fine food, and red wine. His work, the designing and manufacturing of scales (weights and measures), was his passion. Yet most important was his family, and on top of us all, was his wife of 57 years - my Grandma Jeannie. Their story is perhaps the truest love story I have ever known. He loved her with all his heart in this life, and I know he continues to do so in the next one.
We let go of him this last Friday, the 5th of January, upon a mountaintop one thousand feet above my grandparent's house. My 78-year-old grandmother hiked and climbed the entire way. We each said goodbye one last time, toasting him with red wine, as he no doubt would have approved. Moments later a broad tailed hawk appeared from the west and flew close, riding the thermals up and around the summit while never flapping its wings. It circled close for a few minutes, then turned back and flew west until it vanished in the ambers, tans, and sage colors of the desert.
On this trip I carry his passport, his newest, as it is not completely covered in the multitude of stamps and visas like his old ones. I carry it to remind me of him – a reason why I travel. The dreams that his stories, his books, and the bits of history that filled his study captured in my imagination are much of what inspires my drive to travel.