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When my phone rang yesterday morning, I learned that my father-in-law had passed away. He was 85 years old.

Around here, we called him Grandpa Mac. He was a humble man who was born and raised in Arkansas. He met the love of his life in Ohio while serving in the military. After his service, they raised their four children on a dairy farm in Wisconsin. He was a hard working father who not only ran his farm but took to the roads driving a truck to better provide for his family.

I’ll never forget the day I met him. I’d married his son in a quiet ceremony in the presence of my two sons and best friend. When my husband called to tell his father the news, he was knocking on our front door within hours. Eight hours of driving distance separated us so on one hand, I was impressed. On the other, I knew he was fearful. Fearful that some primitive cave woman had hit his son over the head with her club and dragged the poor, unconscious man off to her cave without even the benefit of kicking and screaming because he was….well…unconscious.

I’m pleased to say that his fears were alleviated after a couple of days.

We had the privilege of having him live in our neighborhood for a couple of years. His kids were scattered in four states from Wisconsin to San Antonio. Sometimes Albuquerque and Australia. When he lived in our town, he was an 8 hour drive from all of them (with the exception of the other continent, but that’s a given).

We realized the importance of establishing rituals in that short time. Our ritual with my father-in-law included a home-cooked breakfast at our house every Saturday morning. After breakfast, the guys would head out to purchase building materials for whatever project we had going on. If there were no projects, they’d go to an old swap meet. And then one year, Grandpa Mac decided to buy a boat.

They’d take the boat out after breakfast on Saturdays and it always broke down. Always. When the boat wasn’t dead in the middle of the lake somewhere, it was dead in the corner of my backyard with something underneath that didn‘t resemble grass and looked as though nothing green would ever grow there again. The neighborhood kids thought a dead boat in the corner of the yard was great.

Eventually, Grandpa Mac moved to San Antonio. The boat went and my backyard got bigger but we missed our rituals. We missed him.

We were lucky enough to spend time with him at a family reunion in the summer of 2009. A couple of weeks later, he came knocking on our front door again, a brave old Arkansas boy taking a road trip alone in the month of July because he’d gotten such joy from seeing all of his kids in the same place at the same time. It’s like he’d gotten a second wind and decided to go visit the individual families from Wisconsin to San Antonio all over again–as if the family reunion was a basket of chips and salsa that left him hungry for Carne Asada Black Angus Ribeye Al Macho.

We’re thankful he was so hard-working and humble, so protective and loving. So adventurous.

My phone rang this morning before I was ready to wake up (I work vampire hours). My own father had locked his keys in the house as he was heading back to work after lunch. I jumped out of bed, threw a coat over my robe, put shoes on my feet, but didn’t do a thing to my wild hair before stepping out into the freezing temps to drive a half mile to his house. He was sitting down on a very cold porch when I pulled up. We visited for a few minutes and hugged a good hug before we went our separate ways. And I knew that if he locked himself out every morning for the rest of winter, I’d jump right up and do it all over again.

I’d do it all over again just for that hug.