My dad’s dad was a bank teller in our small town who enjoyed working with people more than with money. I was young and asleep when the phone outside my bedroom rang with news of grandma’s death. Strange how one can grasp the whole conversation by overhearing mom’s half of the call. Soon after, maybe right away, Grandpa had dinners with us. He would walk down the street to our apartment after work. Usually we were already home from school when he would arrive.
Grandpa liked the comics so much that he read them aloud. Hagar just isn’t the same when you already know the punchline – but neither are the comics without someone to share the chuckle.
On cold days he enjoyed surprising us by placing his hands on the back of our warm necks. We somewhat didn’t mind. On every day, he was likely to unholster a rubber band from his vest or suit coat pocket and launch it one-handed to just nip the back of an ear while we weren’t looking.
I remember lots about dinner with grandpa. To my memory he always sat at the same place around the table, and had a funny name for butter, “bub-u-tutter-or”, or something like that.
I also remember him teaching us to shoot pool at the fabulous pool table upstairs in the lodge he belonged to. The expansive room was appointed with rich dark wood that had an air of luxury, harkening back to the former days of our coal region. The building was down by the Hollywood Bakery – sort of across from the old police station where they used to bring a live deer into a make-shift stable outback each Christmas. By “teaching” I mean that he would run rack after rack of balls without missing in games against us. Grandpa didn’t believe that letting us win things would teach us anything. Don’t even ask about checkers.
When my brothers and I got older and began to drive, he loaned me his Chrysler Cordoba for the prom. More regal than the old green VW Square Back, it was like driving a boat while seated on a huge red velvet deck chair. To picture the leg room, slide your chair a few feet back from the dinner table tonight. Yep, you’d have to reach for that glove box. For such a big car the mirrors sure were tiny, hardly big enough to use if you had to shave at a camp site.
One summer evening, soon before I left for college, the honor of driving home Grandpa fell to me. He had retired from the bank by then and even though it probably was not a mile away, it was better than him walking alone. Now, our family isn’t known for emotional speeches. Not that we were unloving, just that the $20 hand-shake said plenty well enough. So when he hesitated curbside in front of his porch, it really surprised me that he packed so much into two short breaths, “Remember to send letters … how else will anyone ever write your biography?”
What a remarkable thing to say. His words filled the canvas of my heart with so positive a picture of my future. He was proud of me and thought I was something worth writing about. I still don’t see myself as all that – but his blessing helps me have courage to be authentic even now, all these years later.
Hopefully you have someone like my Grandpa in your life. Someone who believes in you, and has a positive picture of you, and gave you the blessing of words from the heart that last.
And hopefully we can be like my Grandpa – to take the opportunity and share our good picture of others from our own hearts. And, sometimes the $20 hand-shake does say plenty well enough.
Amazing, the power of words. Thanks for walking along with me to hear about my Grandpa…