I don’t talk about it a lot, but one person I miss terribly is my Grandpa Charlie. What I wouldn’t give to be able to walk into my kitchen (if I had one big enough to walk into), sit down at the table (again, if my kitchen was big enough to have a table), and have a cup of coffee (I do have coffee) with him while we listened to some bluegrass on the radio. These are things I didn’t think much about while they were happening, but now, some 11 years after he’s been gone, I sure do miss those days. Granted, his health had declined in the last few years of his life and I didn’t see him nearly as much as I should have, but for years he lived with my family and he was an ever-present fixture in our lives. He was a great guy, always full of laughs and great advice. I knew that I could always count on Grandpa to be Grandpa. And I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Today would have been his 91st birthday. This man was so full of life all the way into his late 70s that it was hard to believe he would ever leave us. But things happen. And before we know it, that spark is gone. I catch myself thinking about how cool it would have been if he could have been here to see my daughter grow up and my sisters’ children. He would have been such a great influence on all of them, but all we can share of him are the stories we remember from our own childhood days. They’ll never know the joy of being called a “Sap-head” or “Uglier than I am.” Yes, there was joy in that. If only love’s legacy were more easily passed down. If only I’d been able to tell him what it all had to do with the price of milk and ducks in England…or was it milking ducks in England? I’m not sure if I ever heard that right, but I’m pretty sure he wanted to know because he always asked.
Some way, somehow, we’ve lost the ability to transmit true feelings and appreciate the simple things. We’ve made everything so damned complicated. We’ve made it all about one-upping each other and that’s not how it’s supposed to be. In these days when we are fighting so hard against those who wish to erase parts of history (both ancient and recent), let’s all be careful not to forget our own history even if it’s not so politically correct. Don’t forget about the grandparents who shaped our family traditions. Don’t forget about the aunts and uncles and crazy cousins who used to make you laugh, back when it was acceptable to do so. Don’t forget about the people who took so much time to make sure you were fed, clothed, housed, and educated…even if they didn’t do such a great job at it.
I know that not everyone has had good experiences with family. I also know that not everyone thinks past the impact someone’s actions have had on them to the reason why someone would have acted that way to begin with. Nobody is perfect. What seemed right at one moment in time, may have been dead wrong by today’s standards but to that person at that time, it was most likely the only choice they knew how to make. I am proud of the person I am today and of all of the little things that went into creating me. I’m an Appalachian woman. My family has roots in Southern Ohio and Kentucky. When I visited my great-grandparents and other relatives, they lived in the hills of Beattyville, Kentucky and I was always fascinated by the things I observed in that place. I can still smell the coal burning when I think about those hills. Although many of my family members were raised with different attitudes and beliefs about race relations, I still grew up to be someone who doesn’t see color. I still grew up to teach my daughter how to be someone who doesn’t see color. We love people and we don’t like to see anyone mistreated. And we didn’t get to be this way by erasing people from our lives. We got to be this way by looking to God and treating all people the way He tells us to treat people.
My grandpa grew up in the 1920s and 1930s. It was a very different time. But I never saw him treat anyone badly for any reason. I never saw him act in a way that was anything but loving and respectful. He believed in God. He revered God’s word and He lived a good life. And through his actions, he taught us (my family) how to be humble and good-natured people if we were open to it. And for those who weren’t, well, they went their own way. And that’s fine, too. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know I speak for quite a few people when I say that Grandpa Charlie was quite possibly one of the greatest men I ever knew. And if he had shortcomings, well, I never would have known.
I found myself distancing from him in his last years as I realized that the pain of losing him would be too much for me if I didn’t. That’s how I usually brace myself for a loss. When I see that I might be losing someone or something, I step back or try to fade into the background. It’s not the best way to deal with things and it creates a lot of sadness later. Some people may have seen this as me not caring, but they don’t have the whole story. As is often the case when people get all riled up about things. None of us has all the details unless we were there, in the situation. None of us has the right to paint a backdrop on someone else’s canvas using our palette and discounting theirs. Sometimes, we just have to look at the picture and appreciate it for what it is and for what it isn’t. I don’t know why some people are so hateful and others so forgiving. I don’t know why some people are so hell-bent on creating chaos for others while some are content to simply attend to their own responsibilities and try to live a life that does no harm. All I know is that in each of our lives, we have those people who inspire us, and we probably have those people who disgust us. They won’t be the same people for everyone else. No one has the right to tear down your “Grandpa” or anyone else who has made a difference to you. No one should have the ability to erase your history or anyone else’s because it makes us who we are, and it gives us direction and inspiration toward who we hope to become or avoid becoming. And without that guidance, we simply stand still.
Praying that each of you embrace who you are, where you come from, what you’ve been, and what you’ve been able to overcome. We really don’t have to hurt each other. There are better ways to be human here. If you can, hug your grandpa today. Love every one of the years he’s lived and be thankful for the things he’s seen and lived through. Be thankful for what he’s been able to teach you about life and love. And never let yourself forget all of those ingredients.