When I heard the news Friday that Grandpa had died, I just had to write. I couldn’t not. We were in the car, en route to Nashville for Hutchmoot, and I cried and wrote. What I wrote, I shared at the funeral yesterday and am posting here also.
One might look at Grandpa’s life and declare it narrow. He lived on the same (small, by today’s standards) piece of land nearly all his life. Many of the things we may consider normal aspects of daily life he never experienced. But I will not define his life by what he lacked.
His love was huge. He kept up with the world’s happenings and could talk easily with anyone. He placed others before himself. Life didn’t end up exactly how he’d planned and dreamed. But still he saw the silver lining.
He served his country, but like most of his generation he didn’t talk much about the gruesome things he doubtless saw. He did like to share about the places he went, though. He saw the world in World War II.
Whether based in actual events or fictional, long or short, tall tales or more realistic. Serious or just for fun. He loved a good yarn.
He told stories. He read to us. He read books himself. He watched old movies and the news.
On Friday when I heard the news about Grandpa I was reminded about a beloved book character. I don’t know if you all know Mitford’s Uncle Billy from the books by Jan Karon, but he’s dear to me. I’ll just tell you a little about him:
Uncle Billy is always ready with a joke. He treats his telling of jokes like a job of sorts, placing all kinds of pressure on himself to find and deliver the best of jokes. Uncle Billy isn’t actually anyone’s uncle, but in a way the whole community leans on him. Besides his jokes, Billy is known for loving his wife fiercely. It’s perhaps what he’s not known for that’s the most extraordinary, though. He drew. Exquisite drawings that when they came to light lessened the financial burden tremendously. He caned chairs, he carved. And he did all this quietly, without presumption. With no expectation.
Uncle Billy reminds me of Grandpa. Life may not be easy, but he brings the smiles.
I heard a new story just a couple weeks ago, when Grandpa’s brother was visiting:
When he was young, and they’d had a dry year and thus didn’t have enough hay to feed the cows, they drove ’em, in trucks, to the Sandhills (by Purdum, he said) so they could graze. On the way home, they stopped at every place and had a bullfight. “Our bull was a good fighter,” he said. “It didn’t ever take long to win.”
He enjoyed stories both as a recipient and as a purveyor. More than either of those, though, I remember how he created stories — memories — for me. For us.
When I was little Grandpa took Luke and I out to a hill and handed us a gun. He’d previously set up cans across the way for us to aim at. When I hit a can with my first shot, he called me Annie Oakley.
He took us sledding. He made us toys. He played the squeezebox and sang. He let us into his story, showing us around the farm.
Grandpa loved the land. He delighted in his family. His life was large.