Today is twenty-four years since I lost my beloved grandfather. It's hard to put into words what he meant to me and what he still means to me all these years later. Since he had an effect on both me as a person and a writer, I'm memorializing him in this blog post. He is one of the reasons I’m the writer I am today.
Although I only had Papa eight and a half short years, he is certainly one I give credit for honing my writing gift. When I was little, he would always put me on his knee and tell me stories from his childhood. The favorite one was of Skippy, his loyal hound dog who warmed his feet on cold winter nights and was the best dog in the world, until a mad dog bit him, and they had to shoot Skippy. Yeah, I begged to hear that one over and over although I cried through it most of the times.
Or we’d go sit in the little swing below the house, and he’d make up stories. They were usually all about a wonderful, sweet, kind, beautiful Princess named Krista. And in the stories, Princess Krista was always doing good and helping others. His favorite story was about an ogre of sorts called a “Whatchmacallit” that was shunned by society, but who Princess Krista(of course!) made friends with and brought it out of its shell. He taught me not only about storytelling, but how I should treat others,especially those less fortunate than me.
Papa was a writer himself. After my father passed away, I found some of Papa's stories among his belongings. They were stories about growing up and were homespun in the vein of Lewis Grizzard and Garrison Keilor. He would have had some amazing stories to tell of his time in the war, his faith, and his family.
He was a WWII veteran. He served in the Navy on the USS Kenyon destroyer in the Pacific. One of his favorite things to do was to kid my grandmother about my father’s birth. Although he was gone for many years, he had leave up in Massachusettes(I believe...up north somewhere!), and she took my aunt and went to visit him. On that trip, my father was conceived, and he was six weeks old when Papa came home. Papa loved to joke he’d been away for over three years and came home to a six week old son!
My favorite story of Papa is one of faith. When my dad was in Vietnam, Papa said he stayed close enough to God that he could reach out and touch him. One evening on the news, he watched as an elderly Vietnamese man was taken from his home and forced to flee from his village. That unknown man an ocean away touched my grandfather, and he fell down on his knees and began praying for that man. Even with my dad in a foreign land, Papa never forgot that Vietnamese man, and he prayed for him every time he prayed. Every time I tell that story, tears come to my eyes, and I hope to have the same faith that he did.
Papa was also a preacher, and he was the pastor of both Turniptown Baptist Church in Ellijah, GA as well as New Hightower. In my church, Riverdale, his sweet, humble presence as a towering man of faith is still remembered to this day.
He was also a stellar athlete. He won a basketball schorlship during the Depression to Snead College in Alabama. However, he had to come home because times were tough. Not only did he play basketball and football at Nelson High School, but he was a very talented baseball player. He had a tryout with the Atlanta Crackers pro Baseball team. Although he had the opportunity to play, he turned it down. He cited the fact he’d been away from his family too long during the war to leave them again.
One of the greatest aspects of his character was his tender-heart. Things touched him, bothered him, and worried him deeper than they did other people. He had a sensitivity that touched people. He couldn’t stand to see people or animals mistreated. When I was little, there was a hound dog up the street that was skin and bones. I named it Big Dog, and everyday we would feed Big Dog and try to fatten it up. I know I’ve inherited my tender-heart from Papa. Sometimes it’s both a blessing and curse.
Papa loved his grandchildren. He even had a tag on the front of his car that read, “Let Me Tell You About My Grandchildren”. My cousins, David and Stephen, were twelve and eight when I was born, so they had a lot of years being spoiled rotten by Papa, but he wasn’t burned out on spoiling by the time I came along. Papa was the type if you wanted to get up at 2 in the morning and play Little People, well then, you just got up and played Little People!
From time to time when the ache from missing him gets so hard I can’t breathe, a feeling will come over me. It’s as if he’s saying, “I’m still here with you, and I love you and I’m proud of you.”