I have often wondered how you properly remember a person to someone who didn't know them or even to someone who knew them in a different way than you. I have pondered how you can accurately share what a person was like, what they stood for, how the felt, what they were. The conclusion I have reached is that you just can't. What you can do is talk about what someone was to you, what they meant to you, and what they represented for you. You can't speak for someone else, and I wonder if you can completely know someone else. We all have sides of ourselves that we expose only to a certain audience. To know someone completely is difficult at best, so to safely tell their story is an unfair task. Today I have thought endlessly about my Grandpa, or Grandpa Howard as I sometimes called him.
My first memories come long after this picture, but I wonder so deeply about this man. This confident brown man with the thick black hair. What did he want? What were his dreams? Was this picture taken before or after he served his county in the Navy? What was this dashing young man thinking?
I know that he married my grandmother who was quite his junior. They had my mom, his only biological child, but not the only child he would claim as his own. I know that this smile is exactly the same smile he carried throughout his life. It never went away, and it always brought you along with it, even when you sometimes didn't want to go. The man was a jokester to everyone. He could laugh at his own joke, and you would be just fine with it. He never met a stranger, and if you met him you would know what I mean.
My grandpa wasn't a perfect father. Who is? He did something that to this day I find incredibly odd and admirable. When my grandmother left him, he moved in to his ex-mother-in-law's basement because she was raising his daughter, my mom. He continued to live there when he wasn't off working in another part of the country, and he didn't remarry until my mom was grown. Men didn't raise their children then. It wouldn't have been an option, but he stayed as close to my mom as possible. Can you imagine?
This is my mom, her dad, and his mother. It strikes me just how stylish he was. He was a tiny little guy. I was much taller than him. What he lacked in height he made up for with heart. He loved his two step-sons like they were his own. In fact, it was my step-uncle who took care of him, with the heart of a saint, right up until his farewell.
This picture is more of that man I remember. These are his sisters, Kathleen, the smallest, and Margaret.
These two are with my step-grandmother. They were together my whole life. I took the one on the right with my first camera, the Polaroid. His dog Mitzi is looking up at him. He loved that dog. She was a Boston Terrier and she was awesome. I remember she got a weird spot on her lip and they had to have her put to sleep. My grandpa was devastated.
This is Grandpa and my mom in his backyard. Grandpa made this bbq grill with bricks he reclaimed. I can't remember the story, but he was very proud of that grill. It think the bricks my have come from the old school house. It was pretty darn awesome. He was ahead of his time. "Reclaimed" is all the rage these days!
This one is in his kitchen. I love this kitchen. The house he lived in used to be a restaurant and if I am remembering correctly, you were served through those kitchen windows, but I might be getting it all wrong. I do remember eating a bunch of meals in this kitchen. There were always olives, which I loved. I loved to watch my grandpa eat. He ate with gusto, and he made the weirdest concoction after dinner. He would take a glass, put a piece of cornbread in it, break the cornbread apart, pour buttermilk on top of it, then put in salt and pepper and eat it with a spoon. It was the most fascinating thing to me. He also was as blind as a bat. I remember watching him and my step-grandmother put in his contacts, and then put his thick glasses on with them. He called it putting his eyes in. See again, super ahead of the times with the contacts.
I love this one. Grandpa loved the outside. I remember that he was always planting something, starting something, weeding somewhere, showing me the bloom on something. He loved birds too. He always had his binoculars out showing you some type of bird.
This is Skylar with my grandpa at his home in Weber City, Va. This was after he had moved in with my step-uncle. His mind was not playing nice at this point. He used to really love wind chimes. He had a million at his house, so I had brought him the one he is standing next to.
This is an oldie! Look at me! Rodney, the uncle grandpa lived with, is in the middle with my cousin Courtney. We were at my gradnpa's sister's house. I loved to go visit them!
This is my dad and grandpa on Pilot Mountain a day or two ago!!
I will always remember going to my Grandpa's house on Thursday nights. We went there to watch Dallas and Falcon Crest. I didn't like Dallas, so while it was on I would read all of the papers. Grandpa was always good for a Globe, National Enquirer, and at least one other odd ball tabloid. I would look at every single page, and read as much as I could get in. We would eat dinner first, including olives! Then we would eat Jello Pudding Pops. I preferred the chocolate, or the vanilla chocolate swirl, but I was bummed if I got stuck with Vanilla. I would sneak in the freezer and take an inventory before dinner to be sure there were enough to go around. If there weren't, I would volunteer to get them out of the freezer after dinner so I could get my hands on anything but a vanilla!
My grandpa would talk to me about school, my week, the birds... He loved to watch birds and he would tell me about any new ones, or ones that would be coming/going soon because of their migratory habits. He also loved to collect insulators from power lines. He would tell me about walking along the lines and what he found. He loved to find the blue glass ones in perfect condition. It was a quest for him. He also loved cracking walnuts. We were forever gathering them up for him, or going with him to gather them. He was always perfecting the perfect walnut cracking method. How best to get the kernels out as wholes. He knew the different flavors based on where they were grown, how much rain we hadn't gotten, how old the tree was. The man was an expert on walnuts. It might be why he lived so long with Alzheimer's. Walnuts might have special powers!
I remember him helping me study for the spelling bee, letting me help him fill up the humming bird feeders, showing me some plants he had started from roots, taking me down to the river to show me fish, or his boat, or something he found in the river. He never talked about himself or his childhood. He never complained. Not once did I hear him complain.
I remember when my momaw died. She was the one who raised my mom and my grandpa had lived in her basement to be near my mom. We had moved to WV and she was living in MI. I missed her so much I thought I might actually die. She was my best pal. When she passed away they sent my grandpa to tell us. I remember being in my Grandma Juanita's living room and thinking there must be some mistake. It couldn't be possible that I would never see my momaw again. I hated my mom and dad for moving me away from her, and now they were telling me she was gone. I remember looking at my grandpa and he wasn't making a sound, but giant crocodile tears were rolling down his face. He put his hand on my head and he had the most pitiful look on his face. It is only as an adult that I can appreciate that this woman wasn't his ex-mother-in-law, she was the person who did this incredibly important job of raising his daughter and she was gone.
As I sat at Granpa's funeral, the day before my 40th birthday, at the end of a crazy week, I felt so small, and tiny, and helpless and all I wanted was the enquirer, a jar of olives, and a chocolate and vanilla swirled Jello pudding pop, and for everyone who was there when those things meant so much to just be back with me to watch one more episode of Falcon Crest. I closed my eyes, and for just two minutes, they were all there with me, surrounding me. My heart so full I thought it would pop. My Aunt Reat, Aunt Brenda, Uncle Kenny, Uncle Don, Grandma Juanita, Momaw, Grandma Sis, Uncle John, and Grandma Grace, and then the song was over, my eyes opened and they were all gone again. I will miss them all so much, for so many different reasons, in so many different ways, but I will carry them with me and keep them as alive as I can in my heart.