My grandfather passed away on Thursday. He was 87 years old.
Heinz Goehring was an electrical engineer who worked for General Motors. During his career, he worked on NASA’s guidance systems for the Apollo missions. Later on, he set up production lines for the catalytic converter in the US, South Korea and many countries in Europe. He achieved much with his brilliant mind.
But, that’s not what I remember him for.
I remember him for his wonderfully silly jokes.
‘Opa, come swimming with us in the lake!’ my sister and I would say. ‘I can’t today,’ he’d reply. ‘The water is too wet!’
[Opa and me]
I remember him for his pleasantly content demeanor. He loved watching the world go by on his deck in Wisconsin overlooking the calm of Lake Brittany and on his lanai in Florida watching boats speed past towards the Gulf of Mexico. I remember his favorite drink, the long-winded name of which I learned to recite before I had any idea what was in it. I remember him for his love of chocolate, sweets, especially ice cream.
[Omi & Opa on the lanai]
[My cousin Lindsey, me, my cousin Kristin and Opa]
I remember him working in his workshop. Down in the basement, the brightly lit space was full of tools and funny machines that measured invisible things that I didn’t understand. When my parents, sister and I came to visit, Omi would greet us. Seeing the basement door ajar and light down below, my sister and I knew where to find Opa. We’d rush downstairs to see what wonderful things he was working on this time.
He created dozens of household inventions. He rigged the lights in all of the closets to turn on when you opened the door, off when you closed it. The toothpaste on the bathroom sink had a tiny wooden dowel attached to roll up the tube as you used it. A security system protecting all the windows and doors of the house led to a hidden red button under the desk in the kitchen that you could manually trip if an intruder threatened entry.
He made toys. Out of nothing but scrap wood, metal and wires, he built an electric go-cart that Kelly and I could drive. He fashioned a wooden box with rows of LEDs and two dials to teach us multiplication tables. He built a perfectly to-scale 4-foot remote-controlled ocean liner that we launched into the lake. The boat was complete with life rafts and a string of working lights hanging between the smoke stacks. His workshop was a magical place.
I remember him for taking a big leap of faith. In 1954, with just $60 to their names, he and my Omi decided to immigrate to United States in search of a better life than what could be had in post-war Germany. I remember him for his unbelievable war stories — especially the one about jumping into a Tiger tank for fun with his buddy, taking it at full speed to the end of the block, accidentally driving it straight into a vacant house and ‘parking’ it in the basement.
[The Goehring Family: my Aunt Karin, Opa, Omi & my mom, Heidi]
I remember him for his blue eyes. Eyes just like my mom’s, just like my sister’s. I remember him for his love of sailing, and his tiny Sunfish he’d take out on Lake Brittany on bluebird days.
I remember him for his utter appreciation for my Omi. “I wouldn’t be anything without her,” he’d say.
~ ~ ~
Thursday night, after Opa passed, I picked up Kirk from the airport. He was at a conference in San Francisco, but left a day early to come back to be with me. We left the chaos of the airport and drove to nearby Harbor Island where we parked next to the water. Sailboats tacked back and forth in the bay. Kirk turned to me. “What was Opa’s favorite drink?” He knew I would remember.
“A CC Manhattan on the rocks, perfect with a twist.” I smiled. “I still don’t even know what the perfect part means.”
We went to the bar at C Level, a restaurant with a magnificent view of San Diego’s downtown skyline. I had never ordered such a complicated drink before. On my phone, I looked up what ‘perfect’ meant: equal parts sweet and dry vermouth. I ordered with the bartender.
“Sure, I can make that. For you, sir?”
“Make it two,” said Kirk.
From our table on the patio, the view of the city and the sailboats was absolutely perfect. We raised our glasses. “To Opa,” said Kirk.
“To Opa,” I said.
May your soul rest in peace. I love you. ☼