He also smoked. A lot. Birthday cards and Christmas packages reeked of stale nicotine. Carrying his clubs down the fairway ­ I was about 12 ­ I repeatedly burned my arm, accidentally rubbing it across a burning Marlboro attached to the bag. When he hit a three-iron into the Rock River, he didn't swear, but simply took a long drag and contemplated what he'd done wrong with his swing.

Grandpa hasn't been feeling well lately. Sluggish and dehydrated, he's lost a lot of weight. Last night we spoke briefly, but he sounded frail and afraid. Mom has already flown out to be there; Uncle Matt leaves Wednesday. Tuesday Grandpa will finally see the doctor ­ his first since the Truman administration ­ and Matt expects them to find lung cancer. It would surprise no one.

One of the reasons to transfer to a school in Chicago this fall was to be closer ­ 2.5 hours ­ to my grandparents. But now I question this motive. Though the Rock River will always flow and the crack of the bat still calibrates my watch, I am not certain I can ever go back to the idyllic days on grandparents' front porch. At least, not the same porch I came to with my first bullheads.

And that has us all very, very worried.

What are your best memories of your grandparents?