Friday, October 26, 2012

Everything I Need to Know I Learned From My Granddaddy

Some things are not taught in schools. Some things are taught only by grandfathers, and boy, did mine teach me some valuable life lessons....

Your family matters

"I wouldn't take a plug nickel for her." I didn't know what a plug nickel was, but it sure sounded valuable.  My Grandaddy made me feel important. He would take me places and proudly tell anyone who would listen that I belonged to him. Regardless of the fact I was an illegitimate child of his only daughter and everyone in that small town knew it, he was not ashamed of me. I always felt a little taller when I was with him.

Children are people too

After Grandaddy retired from the paper mill, he was only 52, so he took a part-time job at the local Highway Patrol office as a janitor/maintenance man. If Granny and Mama were working, he took me with him to work. I was under his feet; I was in his lap; I was holding his hand; I was asking questions. Never once did he get aggravated. Instead, he shared his coworkers and friends with me. He taught me how things work. He answered all my questions. He taught me that children have a real place of importance in the world.

A nap a day keeps the doctor away

If Granddaddy was home during the day, he would always take time for an afternoon nap. He would let me crawl up in his lap and hold me in his chair until we both fell asleep. I still love taking naps. He taught me that sometimes rest is crucial to gain strength for the journey.   


Kindness matters

Granddaddy was a genuinely nice person and everybody loved to be around him. When he was talking to others, I remember how he would always ask about them first. He knew that to have a real relationship, you had to care more about others than you did yourself. From secretaries to state troopers to mayors and garbage men, he treated everyone the same. His sweet spirit was contagious and I remember the smiles and laughter he always drew out of others.

Bad things happen to good people

I stayed every day with my Granny and Granddaddy when I was little. One day we were all working in the garden and Granddaddy decided to go inside the garage to mix up some bug spray for the garden. As usual, he rarely went anywhere without my being his shadow, so I followed him. I watched as he put the insecticide solution in the metal can and screwed the lid with a built-in handle pump back on the container. As he leaned over and began pumping to mix up the solution and get it ready to spray out of the attached hose, the pressure began to build inside the can. Granddaddy unknowingly pumped one too many times and suddenly the metal lid violently exploded upwards, hitting him in the jaw and knocking him backwards and immediately unconscious.
I was only four years old. 

I was standing two feet away, and I remember the blood was everywhere.

I remember his glasses lying on the ground near his head.

I remember crying uncontrollably, and not knowing what else to do because I was in shock, so I just stayed by his side.

What seemed like an eternity later
(although it was only several minutes), he came to and whispered through his bloody mouth, "Go get Mary." I turned and ran as fast as I could out to the garden where Granny was still working. She must have seen my terror and wasted no time getting back to him and calling the ambulance. Granddaddy lost several teeth and broke his jaw that day.
About a week later, he returned from the hospital and I was scared to go near him. He looked different. His jaw was wired shut. His face was swollen. He finally convinced me that he was still my Granddaddy, and I ran to his open arms and let him hold me. He taught me bad things can happen, but not only does the human body heal from trauma, so does the human spirit.

It's okay to be different

As a child, I was a tomboy, through and through. My Granny wanted me to be prissy and put on dresses and play with dolls so much more than I did.  Year after year, I asked for a toy truck and a race track for Christmas. Instead I got dolls, socks and underwear.

A few weeks after my fifth Christmas, Granddaddy called me down to his house and said he had a surprise for me...he had made me--I mean, handmade with his own hands and scrap wood--a toy truck for me! It was the most beautiful toy I had ever seen. It had wooden wheels that really turned, a spacious cab and long bed perfect for hauling my daily nature finds. Granddaddy didn't care that I liked "boy" toys; he always encouraged me to be Me.

To this day it is my most treasured Christmas present. When I had children of my own, I begrudgingly let them play with it, knowing that Granddaddy would have wanted me to share and that he would love knowing how much they have enjoyed it. One day Hannah decided to color it with crayons and I was like, "Aaaaggghh!"  But I got over it pretty fast.  

 My youngest child Abbey now uses it to haul her favorite farm and jungle animals from room to room. It is a testament to the quality and durability of that handmade truck, some thirty five years later. When our grandson Cooper starts playing with it in a few years, I bet Granddaddy will be smiling as he watches from above. 

Never leave a man behind

As an adult with children of my own, I took them to see Granny and Granddaddy in Western North Carolina as often as possible. While visiting one summer, my then seven-year-old son Connor was playing on a local park playground and fell from the monkey bars and broke his arm. We rushed him to the emergency room and as is the case with most ER's, had to wait an excruciatingly long time for his arm to be set. Knowing they could do nothing but wait, my sisters and Granny decided to go home and come back and get me when we were done.

When the doctors sent me out of the suture room some two hours later so they could set Connor's broken arm, I walked into the waiting room to find that someone had decided to stay: Granddaddy. My Granddaddy offered his handkerchief and his strong shoulder for me the cry on as I listened to my little boy screaming in pain in the room next door. When we finally got Connor back home and settled in, I heard Granddaddy  scolding every single family member for leaving me at the ER alone. I still have the handkerchief he gave me that day. It reminds me that being strong for someone during a crisis is a beautiful gift.

Tobacco barns smell divine

Okay, so this is not a life lesson, but it is one of my most memorable smells of childhood. Do you have smell memories? Well, I do, and I remember going with Granddaddy up to the tobacco barn on the side of the mountain where we lived to check on the drying tobacco leaves. Granddaddy farmed tobacco as another form of income. We lived in the mountains of North Carolina, and tobacco farming is a staple of the state. The barn was dark and damp, but the sweet smell of tobacco permeated my senses when I walked in. I remember staring up at the huge leaves draped over the beams, reflecting the sun shining through the purposely separated slats in the barn walls. Did I mentioned how great it smelled in there?


As old as I am, I miss my Granddaddy with an ache that is deeper than words, but I feel his 'ministering spirit' around me and I live by his life lessons every single day...

"Are not the angels all ministering spirits sent out in the service of God for the assistance of those who are to inherit salvation?" Hebrews 1:14

1 comment:

  1. Well, I have tears streaming down my face, and I will treasure this post FOREVER. This, April, could not be more beautiful, as I'm sure is coming from a totally non-partisan place!!
    He was a wonderful Granddaddy, and we could NOT have scored a better one if we'd picked him out ourselves. I miss him every day, too, and we are SO luck to have his example to live by!
    Thank you for sharing this, for putting into words something I never could have.
    You are a poet and a scholar, My Favorite Little Sister.


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