Remembering my grandfather

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Saturday morning I cracked two eggs into a pan an instinctively broke the yolks. I let them cook for a few minutes and could hear my grandfather’s voice in my head.

“Bust the yellow and let it cook a minute. You want the whites cooked, the yellow a little bit runny,”

If I had had liver mush, I would have fried it crispy around the edges the way he used to cook it for me. If I had had a biscuit I would have buttered it hot like he used to at Sunday dinner. He knew, as all good Southerners do, that you can’t sweeten tea after it’s cold and you better butter your biscuits while they’re hot.

In high school I’d come over to my grandparent’s house on weekend mornings. In college I’d show up a little closer to dark. It didn’t matter though because he always asked if I was hungry and when I was he’d cook me an egg. Or make me a liver mush sandwich with mustard. He’d pour me a glass of tea or coke over ice and ask me where I’d come from. Your daddy’s? Columbia? He’d sit with me while I ate then go find the Braves on TV.

When I was a little girl I spent every Friday night at my grandparent’s house. My grandmother, I call her Flossy for some reason I can’t even remember, and I would watch Bo and Luke Duke ride around in the General Lee on the Dukes of Hazard, then worry over JR and Sue Ellen on Dallas. I’d wear my grandfather’s t-shirt to sleep in. He worked the third shift at the mill, then, and somewhere between Uncle Jessie and Southfork he’d leave us to it and go to work. In the mornings I’d wake up to a peppermint patty, a bag of plain m&ms or some other treat he’d gotten out of the vending machine and left for me on the kitchen table along with a note that said “Dula, wake me up at 2 o’clock.”

One day when I’d gotten a little older he told me it was about time I learned how to drive. He took me over to the Mayo Methodist Church parking lot and let me practice my left turn, my parking, my reversing. He never seemed nervous, though maybe he should have been as I was only about 14. He sat cross legged with his arm over the back of the seat. He whistled. On those countless spins around the parking lot he’d tell me about when he was younger, how he had tried to enlist during WW II and how the recruiter sent him home telling him his mother already had one son overseas and he wasn’t going send another. He told me about his sister who had been hit by car and about his dad who was never around much. He told me about his mother because she was a saint. At least to him. He told about working in the mill and I developed a vocabulary for things I’d never seen: bobbins and the spinning room. These were exotic, otherworldly to me and I held them in high esteem mostly because he had told me about them.

He used to have a whisp of black hair in front. A holdover from his youth and I used to tell him he looked like Phil Donahue. In the 90s, as Phil gave way to Oprah and the height of the tell all talk show, my grandfather formed the opinion that these people on talk shows were just complaining and he didn’t really see the point.

You can’t blame everybody else for your troubles, he’d say.

Even at 14 I knew he had a point. His childhood wasn’t perfect, neither was my grandmother’s but they never dwelled on it. Instead they walked in the direction of the kind of life they wanted: a warm house with heat you didn’t have to coax out of a stove, a home filled with respect and plenty of laughter.

One time I asked him why he didn’t go to church. Over the years my grandmother had strongly, and I mean strongly, encouraged me to attend so I kind of wanted to know how he gotten a pass on the Sunday services.

“Me and the Lord, we worked it out,” he said. “I worship him in here.” He pointed to his heart.

His tender, loving heart.

There is no one, church going or not, who walked closer to Christ than my grandfather. He fed the beggar, he clothed the children, he comforted the lonely. He eased the pain of the suffering just by sitting with them in their living rooms or at the nursing home. He talked to the people who needed a friend, he took them milk and bread. He lived by deed and he served the Lord by doing his work everyday. And he did it all while making a joyful noise, by singing a gospel tune out loud and to no one in particular.

There are no words to describe the depth of his kindness, his gentle, smiling way or his capacity to give to all of us who were lucky enough to be his family. He was a fine man. The best, actually. He showed me early on what it meant to be a devoted husband, a loving father and a patient, fearless grandfather who didn’t mind circling the church parking lot 4,982 times with his 14-year-old granddaughter. My grandfather was a bright spot in a sometimes gray world and it simply will not be the same without him.

As I was fumbling around Saturday morning, trying to imagine how to move through a world without my grandfather in it, my youngest daughter Lucille said, “It is sad mama but he had a good, long life.” She’s six and a fierce little package with a one tiny hand holding tightly to an invisible tether straight to my soul. My eyes filled with tears.

I know she’s right.

But I also know I’ll be crying over my fried eggs for a long time to come because no matter how true her sweet words are, I’m going to miss him terribly and I know I’m not the only one.

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