Most everyone has fond memories of their grandparents. Mine is when I was eight years old. In 1954, my dad was in the Air Force, and he had received orders to go to Okinawa. When he left, my mother took my sister and I to live with my grandparents. Mammo and Granddad lived in a small house in White Settlement, a suburban community of Fort Worth, TX.
Granddad was not a big man. In fact, he was 5’6”, 160 pounds, thinning grey hair, splotchy complexion, and spoke with a soft West Texas accent. He injured his right leg in a work related accident and he walked with a limp. His attire for work and around the house was denim overalls. The ones with the large metal buttons that hooked the shoulder straps to the front.
Granddad was reserved, sociable; yet, you would find him off to himself at family gathering. I don’t ever remember hearing him say anything demeaning; he always looked for the good in everyone. Granddad loved his family, but Mammo was the matriarch.
Granddad worked at Convair’s aircraft manufacturing and assembly plant. They were building the B-36 bomber for the Air Force.
Granddad did not drive a car. Most days, I would go with Mammo to pick him up from work. I would watch for him as he exited through the security gate. When I spotted him, I would run to meet him. He always carried a black lunch box and he would let me carry it back to the car. I would open the lunch box, knowing he always left a cookie or a piece of candy. He would smile and tell me I could have it.
The year we lived with my grandparents, Granddad was the center of my life. He gave me the attention and love I craved. He allowed me to follow him everywhere like a puppy. When confused or upset, Granddad would pull me close, and talk softly to me.
He had a large garden where he grew a variety of vegetables. But, he was most proud of his sweet onions. We would spend time in the garden pulling weeds and watering the plants. While we worked, he would tell me stories of when he was a little boy, or about my mother when she was growing up. There was usually a moral to his stories or something humorous.
White Settlement did have a Safeway grocery store. Yet, Mammo preferred using the small grocery store owned by a man from their church. The store had wooden floors, worn uneven, and squeaked as you walked the aisles. It was a typical country store, yet many people in the area preferred it. It carried everything from fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, canned goods, and toiletries. Even with the limited selection, my grandparents preferred shopping there.
Granddad and I would watch television together and we had our favorite shows. Granddad loved the old movies, especially Ma and Pa Kettle, Laurel and Hardy, and Amos and Andy. He also enjoyed the John Wayne westerns. When we got ready to watch TV, he would sit in his large rocker and I would crawl up in his lap. He would tickle me and then tease me about sitting still. One of my favorites shows was Francis the Talking Mule, because Granddad would imitate the voice of Francis. It would make me giggle and I would make him repeat it.
It was a daily ritual; Mammo would send Granddad to the store for what ever she needed for preparing dinner, and I would walk with him. These were memorable times with Granddad. Granddad would hold my hand as we walked and I would tell him about my day at school. When finished, he would tell me how proud he was of me. I was in heaven for the love I felt from him. He often teased me about the neighbor girl in my class. I would blush and it would make him chuckle.
Often at the store, he would allow me to get candy, a soda, or sometimes a toy. He would defend me if my mother accused me of begging. Later, he would poke me, giggle, and then tell me we got away with fooling my mother.
When I was 16, Granddad had a massive heart attack and died. My dad was stationed in Eastern Montana. We drove over 24 hours to Ft. Worth to attend his funeral. I felt no one loved me as much as Granddad did, and his death was devastating. When I stood looking at him in the casket, I refused to believe it was him. My dad had told me I was a young man and men didn’t let others see them cry. To keep from embarrassing myself, I would go off alone.
The day of the funeral was a horrendous experience. When my mother, sister, and the rest of the family were crying, I wouldn’t allow myself. I would see my dad watching me and I was determined I wouldn’t embarrass him or myself. When it came time to leave the cemetery, Dad had to pull me back to the car. I couldn’t believe we had to put Granddad in the ground.
Although Granddad died early in my life, his memory has stayed with me all these years. All the times we spent together, he taught me compassion, being non-judgmental, and the value of listening. He showed me you could find happiness within yourself. He taught me to find the positive things in life even when times are difficult. He demonstrated loving your neighbor as you would yourself.
I am now near the same age that Granddad was when he died. There are few men in my life that demonstrated the love Granddad gave to me. I still remember his soft voice. I remember the fun times as he held me and we watched TV. I remember those times working with him in his garden.
Yet of all those memories, the one I will always remember most, were those evening walks with him to the store. I can still feel his warm calloused hands holding mine as we walked. I loved our walks, because he always listened to me, no matter what. Sometimes we walked without either of us saying a word. I always knew then, as I do now, my Granddad loved me.