I’m not going to talk about my father’s failings here because quite frankly, he’s not worth it. And yes, I know there is a Grandparents’ Day, but I think that when a grandfather steps up to the plate and takes over the father figure duties when a father is unavailable, he deserves to be remembered on Father’s Day.
I didn’t realize it when I was ten, but my grandfather was a man with an incredible sense of responsibility, and it wasn’t a begrudging sense of responsibility. My mother had to go back to work after my father left. My grandfather took my sisters and me to school and picked us up. We stayed with my grandparents when my mother had to work nights. My grandfather liked to do things like feed us his special milk and Caro syrup concoction as a bedtime snack and then stand back and watch my grandmother hit the roof. He had a sense of humor that was stifled by the expectations of how men should behave in the fifties, when he was raising his family. I think that being our father figure gave him the space to be himself without the pressures of working on the railroad.
If you said “I’m thirsty,” he’d say “I’m PawPaw.” And he’d keep it going. And going. He played baseball with us in the back yard. He took us for long, rambling rides in his 51 Chevy. It had a dashboard like an antique cash register. There was a button to push that read “choke.” When he came to a hill, he would cut the engine and coast, then start it again at the bottom. There’s a street on the outskirts of town named Hollywood something, Lane, Avenue. He’d drive us past that sign and tell us we were in Hollywood, and we believed him.
We went on a lot of long walks through the wooded areas near his house. He was from Glen Alpine in the North Carolina mountains. He was born in a log cabin. He knew the name of every tree. He taught me to cherish nature.
He was the only person in his family to go to college. He loved books. His favorite book was Evangeline. He used to quote from it:
“This is the forest primeval
The murmuring pines and the hemlocks
Bearded in moss, in garments green
Stand like druids of old, indistinct in the twilight . . . .”
I think that reminded him of the forests in the mountains where he grew up.
He was never without his pocket knife and harmonica. And boy, could he play the harmonica.
Every weekend he and my grandmother took us out to eat, and after we ate, he and I went to the bookstore in the mall, and he bought a book for me. I still have a lot of them, like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books. He bought a bookcase for me. He didn’t give it to me. He left it on the front porch, and I found it when he dropped me off after school. He didn’t say anything. He just waved and smiled and drove away in his old truck.
And I had to drag it into the house by myself and put it together. I still have it.
He gave me a desk, a beautiful, real wood desk. I still have it.
He gave me a thesaurus. I still have it. He knew that I was going to write.
He taught me about social responsibility by example.
He made sure that we had a home.
I honestly don’t know what would have happened to us if he hadn’t been around or been willing to do so much for us.
I think he deserves to be remembered on Father’s Day as well as Grandparents’ Day.