April is a bittersweet month. My birthday is in April, and I get a kick out of how much Dawn and the kids enjoy making it special for me. But I always find my thoughts drifting to my grandfather, whose April birthday was one week after mine.
My grandfather was a man of many hats. He served his country in World War II, worked as a hydroplane mechanic on the Miss Bardahl, was an accomplished gardener, and became a pastor in his forties. His obituary showcases an amazing life. By the time I was born, Grandpa was known to most people in his community as ‘Pastor Bill.’
What Pastor Bill lacked in a singing voice (he would often joke about not being able to carry a tune), he made up for with his Sunday sermons, inspired by his rich life experiences, yet somehow always applicable to the people he was speaking to. I can still picture Grandpa behind the pulpit – all 6’2 of him – as he read from the pages typed by grandmother, transcribed from the hand-written notes that only the two of them could decipher. Grandpa had illegible handwriting that could rival any doctor’s. I inherited Grandpa’s singing voice but not his height. Oh well. At least my penmanship is decent.
Growing up without a father can be tough on a boy, and Grandpa did everything he could to make sure I didn’t completely succumb to the sea of estrogen that surrounded me. He would read to me, but instead of fairy tales and bedtime stories, I heard biographies of great men throughout history. Grandpa knew the value of good character. He lived it, preached it, and did his best to impart it to his smart-ass grandson who would rather hear about Luke Skywalker than Dr. Livingston.
I found my grandfather pretty intimidating. He was never afraid to speak his mind. He was strict and there were consequences for disobeying his rules. But he was also very loving and generous. Grandpa never ceased to surprise me with his kindness. Like the time I stayed home sick from school and he built me a vapor tent, with his recliner in the center and a window through which I could watch cartoons. A real window. With glass and a wooden pane.
Or the time, after I had left home, that I fearfully admitted to him that my teenage girlfriend was pregnant and that I was going to need his emotional support more than ever before. Grandpa sat in silence, listening, before finally speaking. All he said was, “A stiff prick has no conscience,” and followed it with a reassuring hug.
I learned a lot from Grandpa. He taught me how to press apples into fresh cider and how to graft a branch from one type of fruit tree onto another to produce hybrids. Grandpa taught me the value of hard work. I’ve never seen a man work so hard for the things – and people – he loved. Above all, he taught me everything good I know about being a man, a husband, and a father.
Not long before Grandpa passed away, knowing his time was short, Dawn and I flew back to Washington to see him. He was in an assisted care facility and dementia was taking hold. Towards the end of our visit, Grandpa looked at me and asked, “How are we related, again?” I tried – and almost succeeded at – keeping the heartbreak out of my voice as I reminded him that I was his grandson. He thought for a moment before replying, “OK, that’s what I thought.” I stole one last hug, savoring the feel of his stubble on my cheek, told him I loved him, and quickly left so as not to lose my composure in front of him.
While I could never hope to achieve my grandfather’s level of work ethic, conviction, or fortitude, I do try to raise my children the way he helped raised me. Yes, Grandpa has left quite a legacy. A long time ago, I wrote a poem in remembrance of my grandmother. I have no poem for Grandpa; just the utmost love, respect, and gratitude.
Thanks for everything, Grandpa. I hope I make you proud.