Late Thursday night, I got word from my family that my grandfather, Stanley Monson, had passed away at 68 years old at his farm home outside of Holton, Kansas.
As the many faces of my extended family meet to mourn, and ultimately celebrate his life on Friday, most of the overwhelming sadness I've dealt with has been subsided. I'd rather remember the great moments that I got to know him, rather than the last time I'll get to see him on Friday. The good memories will always suppress the grief.
And looking back, many of those great memories revolved around sports.
Because of him, I became a fan of the Kansas City teams like the Chiefs and Royals. So I don't know whether to thank or blame him for that.
But the one sports fandom he passed on was Kansas Jayhawks basketball.
He made it feel like the Jayhawks, and in a larger sense, college sports in particular, were on a much higher pedestal than any pro sports to come through. He hated the showboating, never-call-fouls nature of the NBA, no matter how hard I tried to convince him that watching Kevin Garnett in his Timberwolves heyday would change his mind. I think he appreciated the futile effort on my part, but it came down to principle: he was a down-at-home retired farmer, and I was a kid who was overindulged in the Twin Cities life.
Because of him, Kansas always rests as the national champion on my NCAA March Madness brackets. A fuzzy Jayhawk adorns the top of my work computer, which served as a point of pride, then a point of mockery when the No. 1-seeded Jayhawks lost to Northern Iowa this March.
When I went to college in St. Cloud, where hockey was king, I tried in vain to convince him of how loud and ruthless the fans were. But I was trying to talk pucks and skates to a man that I'm fairly certain never stepped on an ice rink.
At times, I know he was envious of Minnesota teams like the Twins and Vikings, and when the Gophers were running all over teams with Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney. He had to root for the Chiefs and Royals, who could blame him?
He would come fishing with me, from when I was a wide-eyed little kid catching carp off a pier near my parents' house, to frying up a catch of crappie and largemouth bass when we roamed the nearby farm ponds in Kansas when I was fresh out of high school.
The one thing that always stuck out about my grandpa was how much he always let my cousins, my siblings and I know how proud he was of all of us.
He was there for one of my football games during my junior year, rooting us on as we lost 33-0 to Brooklyn Center, a team that didn't even qualify for the state playoffs. I only got to play half of the game, but it didn't matter. He loved being there.
During my last year of college, my grandpa discovered he had throat cancer, and was going through radiation treatment. He had a very raspy voic,e and had a great deal of difficulty eating food. But that didn't stop him from driving up to St. Cloud to watch me receive a diploma. He always let me know how glad he was to see his grandson make it through college.
As I started here at the Independent, he, along with my grandma, were among the first to congratulate me, wanting to get their hands on the first article I got into print.
Up until his death, he would text me at work, asking who I liked in the Final Four or the Super Bowl as he learned how to send text messages on his cell phone. I was still hours away from him, but he always made a point to make sure I never forgot family as I adjusted to a new life in Marshall.
My mom and her brothers lost their family patriarch. Others lost a brother, a cousin, a friend, an acquaintance. My two siblings, my cousins and I lost a grandfather who brought us endless joy and humor. But I know he'd want us to celebrate his life like we'd celebrate a Jayhawks national title.
I love you grandpa, and I miss you.