Tuesday, February 7th, 2017 – 5:28 pm
I smacked my cane on the garage door frame earlier today and yelled at one of my corgis, “Chloe, get back here!”
My friend Nicole pulled away from my driveway in her grandfather Elwin’s silver Sebring.
It belongs to her now.
He passed away Sunday in the same Mollala home she spent over a year caring for him.
As a young man, Elwin’s wife Ruba was pregnant and he was only twenty two when he signed up to fight in World War II. On June 6th, 1944, he was one of the brave and terrified young men storming Omaha beach in the D-Day invasion.
Elwin was already in his sixties when Nicole was born. He was almost seventy when Nicole started to grow close to him from the many times she stayed with him and grandma Ruba.
It was there she fondly remembers his woodcutting, the garden and canning, christmas tree farm and his laughing for hours over coffee with his “cronies at the Y.”
But as much as she loved her grandpa, there were things she went half a lifetime hiding from him, for fear of his disappointment or rejection.
Nicole was twenty four when she first came out as gay to her sister Kayla. Just eight years later, she would tragically lose Kayla to cancer.
When she finally found the courage to tell her mother Susan next, her mom assured her, “I always knew you were gay. I was just waiting for you to tell me.”
Ten years later, Elwin, now in his nineties, found out by accident at one of their Mollala United Methodist potlucks.
One of his church friends said, “Nice service except those damned dykes in the choir.”
Elwin replied, “Agreed. I just don’t know how we’re going to get them out of the church.”
Nicole’s mom had heard enough.
She told her brother, “I need you to drive dad home. I can’t listen to this anymore!”
On the ride home, Elwin asked Nicole’s uncle Keith why his sister was upset. Keith said, “Don’t you get it, dad! Your own granddaughter Nicole is gay!”
Nicole and her grandfather didn’t speak for over a year.
After too much time and regret, he finally asked Nicole’s mom, “How come ‘Coley doesn’t come around as much anymore?”
Her mom replied, “She is worried about you rejecting her for being gay, dad.”
Elwin said, “Okay. I did have a hard time. At first. But please tell her I love her and miss her and want to see her.”
Uncle Keith later tried to help his dad to imagine being a man, yet trapped in a woman’s body.
At the next family picnic, Elwin saw his granddaughter in her nicest blue dress shirt, khakis and short black, dapper cut combed back with blonde highlights.
Her grandfather turned to his then caregiver Shawna and proudly said, “You know, I think Nicole would have made a very handsome man.”
Nicole and Elwin grew close again over the last few years as she became his caregiver in his final days.
Two days ago, Nicole was convinced by her mother to let her grandfather know he could go when he wanted.
Nicole agreed and on her next visit she assured him that if he was ready, he no longer needed to stay for her upcoming fortieth birthday, which is tomorrow.
Less than twelve hours later, Elwin Harley Swigart died peacefully in his sleep at the age of ninety nine.