This morning, the patriarch of our family, Carroll Richard “Dick” Donbosco Hann, my grandfather, my Pap, passed away peacefully at home, surrounded by family.
He was 95-years-young.
My grandfather was born in 1925 in the middle of the summer – the roaring ’20s – inside a small home in the west end of Hagerstown, Maryland.
Perhaps not by choice, my grandfather was raised Catholic and attended St. Mary’s Catholic School in Hagerstown. It was different during those times; Pap completed his educational journey shortly after the 9th grade.
Legally colorblind, we think (at least that’s what he told us), my grandfather attempted to enlist in the United States Marine Corp in 1942 at 17-years-old. He did not become a Marine; instead, as he would remind us, the Army will take anyone – and Pap enlisted as a soldier in “General S. Patton’s Army” alongside his best friend, George Lushbaugh.
Richard Hann was shipped off to fight a world war at the ripe age of 18. He reminded me often that he took a boat overseas; the damn boat, he said, made him sick to his stomach.
He was stationed with Company E, 2nd Battalion, 358th Engineering Regiment. During the war, his responsibility: Deactivating land mines, a job reserved only for the bravest of Army soldiers.
My grandfather could never quite talk about the atrocities he saw when fighting totalitarianism while stationed in Europe. He often remembered the Nazi concentration camps and he spoke little about what he saw, even to his family – though when he would recall his time spent overseas, it was the only time I ever saw my grandfather shed tears when recounting his war stories.
The United States won the 2nd World War. My grandfather returned to Hagerstown, to his mother, to his family.
The war was over – and love was in the air.
My grandfather, the handsome, curly-haired rapscallion, set his glimpses on the brown-eyed brunette beauty of the West End, Maureen Martin, whom he used to chase around the town in cars and on roller skates.
Maureen Martin, the Methodist, and Carroll Richard Donbosco (we Catholics feel the need to use our confirmation names in full) Hann, the Catholic, married on September 14, 1951, in a small ceremony in Hagerstown, Maryland.
Then came the fun of finding the perfect home. They moved into their first and only home on Glenside Avenue in 1955. Once addressed as 32 Glenside Ave, for some reason, the address changed in the early ’90s.
Then in the mid-’60s, along came my mother, Colleen, my grandparents’ first and only child, whom they loved more than life itself.
Memaw teased my mother: “You’re a daddy’s girl.” My mother, smiling, would shake her head, “Yep, I guess I am.”
My grandfather began working for the City of Hagerstown in 1955. He spent his career working as an engineer at the Hagerstown Municipal Light Plant, which no longer stands, though somewhere in the house we have a few bricks from when the old “Light Plant,” as Pap called it, was torn down.
Pap retired in 1985. The City gave him his standard gold watch and a remarkable send-off party.
Coincidentally, Pap’s retirement in ’85 coincided with his first – and only – grandchild’s birth: me.
When I came along in November of ’85, and while he never quite admitted it, Pap knew that he was embarking on a bigger job, a much more important responsibility: Being my grandfather.
The youngest childhood memories I have are with my grandfather.
He taught me how to play baseball, though he teased me because I wasn’t very good. I would “always strikeout,” as he said last night as I held hand for the last time.
My grandfather taught me how to garden. In fact, he taught me how to plant a garden and pick out the best veggies. Pap taught me how to ride a bicycle; he taught me how to fish; he taught me how to sharpen a pocket knife; he taught me how to play Pocker; he taught me how to put up a tent; he taught me how to ride a Go-Cart; he taught me how to rake leaves; he taught me how to use a push mower (and how not to blow one up). Occasionally, he would even let me ride his riding mower.
There is so much more that he taught me.
I’ll never forget when my grandparents’ bought me a silly remote control airplane. Pap drove me to the Hagerstown City park ball diamond for an afternoon. We tried and tried to get that damn plane to fly. Finally, we got it off the ground, and the plane crashed. We left the City Park with a broken airplane, but we ate some lunch and Pap said, “we’re not messing around with that thing anymore.”
Pap was involved in so many organizations that I cannot even keep count: He was an Elk, a Moose, a VFW member, an Alsatia Club member (he loved his buddies there, and he loved those little whiskey miniatures). He was probably a member of every social club in Hagerstown. And everybody loved him. They knew him as “Dick Hann,” who could drink a beer like nobody’s business, who had the best garden in town, who could crush a baseball, and whose handshake was that of a man.
You see, my grandfather and I were more than just grandfather-grandson; we were pals. We hung out together. We talked about the world. We talked about life. We even talked about politics. Oh boy. He was a lifelong Democrat, but he voted for whoever the hell he wanted to, as he often reminded us just that.
My grandfather loved to garden. He loved to bowl. He loved to spend time in his backyard. He loved the simple things in life. He loved Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and good, homecooked food.
Carroll Richard Donbosco Hann was the kindest man I’ve ever known. He would literally give you the shirt off his back. There wasn’t a mean bone in his body. He never said a bad word about anybody.
One thing you should know, and many of you already do: Pap was a lifelong Red Sox fan. He loved baseball. I kind of think he could have gone pro if he really wanted to. His favorite ballplayer of all time was Ted Williams. He loved Ted Williams.
There is so much more to write and share about my grandfather’s life journey. There are 95 years worth of material that I haven’t even touched the surface.
I want you to know that I loved my grandfather more than anything in this world. He has and always will be the foundation of my life. He was like a second father to me. That’s the best way I can describe him. I loved him so, so much.
My grandfather gave everything he could to his family. He was a simple and decent man who loved his family. He was not rich. He was not famous. He made an honest living, he served his country, he took care of his family, and he loved us more than anything in this world.
My grandfather passed away early on December 22 in his living room, surrounded by his family.
Last night I drank a beer for my grandfather. He looked at me, and I looked at him. I held his hand, and I told him how much I loved him and how much his life has impacted me. I kissed my grandfather on the head as I left, and I told him I would see him again soon.
My grandfather has now crossed over.
I don’t know whether heaven exists. Catholics, you know, we’re supposed to believe that. But if there is a heaven, Carroll Richard Donbosco Hann has earned his right to walk in, beer in hand, a bowling ball in the other. If there is a heaven, I hope my grandfather is there now, chatting with Ted Williams. I hope he’s chatting with his mother and father and his brother and sisters, his best friends, George and Chuck, his father, whom he lost when he was 16, his Army pals, and anyone else who touched his life and was close to him
“Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and he died that distinguish one man from another.” – Earnest Hemingway.
Safe home, Pap. Until we meet again.
Ryan Miner is the editor in chief of A Miner Detail and the host of A Miner Detail Podcast.