This week is going to be a little off-brand. This week marks the one year anniversary of my grandfather’s death. I tried writing about him a year ago as I had memorialized others. With them it helped me to heal, with Grandaddy it just felt too raw to put it out into the world. And it still fears raw, and I feel like my words can never do justice to just how special he was and how much I loved him. Never the less, I write to honor him and the special spark he brought to the world.
Whenever I am at a gas station and someone gets out talking on their cell phone while pumping their gas, I feel sad for them. They did’t have a granddaddy who told them not to do that. No one who told them it was dangerous. I’ve seen the myth busters episode that debunked the possibility of sparking a fire with your cell phone like this, but I still can’t bring myself to do it. Grandaddy warned me of the dangers literally every time I talked with him on the phone.
My Grandaddy always had advice to protect me. Before most cars had auto lock it was always, “lock your doors.” For years, even in our last longer conversations, he would tell me I needed to wear a hat, like a truckers hat, when I was driving alone. He did not like that I drove long distances by myself and he told me if I wore a hat they would think I was a man and leave me alone. Every time I would respond with, “Grandaddy, if all it takes for them to think that I am a man is to wear a hat, we have bigger problems,” and every time he would offer the advice the next time we spoke.
Thirteen years ago I spent a month in Guadalajara, Mexico. The first two weeks I was in the city by myself. The sheer fact that I was alone in Mexico worried my Granddaddy to no end. Every time he would talk to my mother he would ask about me. I decided to call him once to prove to him that I was fine, hoping he would calm down. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize how busy the street would get as I called him from the pay phone. That only heightened his anxiety and for over a decade after that every time we would speak of where I was traveling to next, he would always add, “But you’re not going to Mexico again, right?” We joked that if I ever went to Mexico again, I was going to have to take him with me.
My granddaddy was always taking care of others. He had to drop out of school in the eighth grade to take care of the family farm to provide for his family. He took care of my nana for years as she suffered from migraines and later heart issues. He was such a strong man with these big hands but he was always tender with her as she depended on him for everything in her last years of life.
When I was a child I wasn’t so sure about my grandaddy. He would take those strong hands and grab my arm with a force he didn’t know he had and give me a loving shake. I would pick beans and potatoes from his garden with him when I came to visit for the summer. He would take me riding on his riding lawnmower and on really special visits, he would take me for a ride on his huge John Deere tractor. After Nana died in my junior year of college, Grandaddy and I became closer.
He was a people person. He was famous for starting up a conversation with anyone that was near him. It would take just a few minutes before he knew their life story. He never met a stranger. Mom said that in his last few months as she was taking him to doctor’s appointments, he was always waving at other people in the cars at stoplights.
He had a rotation of clichés, most original to him, that he was fond of saying. One of his favorite sayings was, “It only takes a little more to go first class.” Mind you, this was a man who would brag about his socks that he bought from the dollar general but it has stuck as a family saying.
Perhaps the best thing about my granddaddy was his love for singing. He would break out into song almost every time I called him. His favorites were a rotation of “How Much is that Doggy in the Window,” “Chattanooga Choo-Choo, “One Day at a Time,” “I Bowed on my Knees and Cried Holy,” and “Que Sera, Sera.” He called me every year on my birthday to sing to me.
His last few months, he spent much of his time in doctors offices. One day when he had two appointments, he began feeling bad during the first visit. As he sat waiting with my mom at the second doctor’s office, he said, “You know, I was feeling really bad back there but I feel better now. I think I want to sing.” And so he did. He just serenaded the whole office. By this point, an infection had taken most of his hearing but he still had a song in his heart he wanted to share with others.
He was at my high school plays, college graduation, my commissioning service when I started divinity school, my divinity school graduation, my installation service when I became a pastor. I knew he was always there for me.
What aches the most is knowing that now that he is gone, I will never be loved that way again. I will never be loved in the special way that only my Granddaddy could love me.
The world will never be the same now that he is gone. He brought a spark, a strength, a joy to life where ever he went. I feel challenged to live my life as joyfully, committed to those I love and strangers I meet and to always carry a song in my heart that spills out of my mouth.