10 years ago today, I lost one of my favorite people ever. My grandfather never lost his “inner child” and, as a result, he was able to connect with not only his six granddaughters, but also the great-grandkids he got to meet. When strangers visited our church, he made a point to not only introduce himself but also to get to know them – their names, where they were from, what their connection was to our little community, etc. – and then he’d make sure to introduce others to the visitors.
In the community, he served on the school board, farmed, drove a school bus, delivered furnace oil, and volunteered his time to the church he’d grown up in. He spent hours sitting at sporting events involving kids of all ages – little league baseball games, high school basketball games, you name it, and my grandparents watched it. They attended every arts event that the school hosted as well. And my grandfather took every opportunity he had to let those student athletes and performers know how much he appreciated their hard work.
He never made a fortune. He never published a novel. He didn’t cure a mysterious disease, travel the world, speak to crowds of thousands, play a professional sport or perform with a band (although he was a pretty decent drummer in his day, or so I’ve been told!) He did so much more than all of this.
He was madly in love with his wife right up until the day he died and flirted incessantly with her (much to the grandkids chagrin at times!).
He took his granddaughters on “dates” and set a tough example for future boyfriends to follow since he pretty much treated you like a queen on those outings!
He hugged me ferociously after each concert, play, etc. and told me that he was very proud of me and couldn’t believe how talented I was.
He squeezed himself into a child’s sized chair just because his first great-grand daughter batted her big brown eyes and said “Gwampa, will you come have a tea pawty wif me?” He did a lousy job saying no to invitaitons like that.
He allowed his oldest great-grand son to fall asleep on him at more than one Christmas get-together.
He let us tag along when he worked in the garden, took us for tractor rides, kept a swing in his tree at all times (a tire swing in the last few years), kept corn on hand so my kids could feed the mule and horse that lived next door, hung Christmas lights on the house every year and was the biggest kid on hand when it came time to open the Christmas gifts.
When he passed away, one of my cousins said it best – “He loved well and was well-loved for it.”
At the funeral home visitations, the line of mourners went out the door and down the block. Among those who stopped to pay their respects to the family were former hired hands that worked on the farm, classmates of his grand daughters who had just always known him and current students who didn’t really speak to the family, choosing instead to shed silent tears at the casket.
The funeral was held in the school auditorium and ended up being standing room only. The captain of the high school basketball team asked the family if he could speak on behalf of the students who had been touched by his concern and a woman who had ridden my grandfather’s bus years before shared a poem she wrote in his honor. A six year old that he had bonded with asked for permission to leave a flower and a picture that she had colored in his casket.
A few years before his death, the football stadium at my old high school was named “Redfield Stadium” in honor of the commitment that my grandparents had demonstrated to the community they loved so much. But I am almost positive that my grandfather would say that a name on a wall is not the most important thing he left behind.
He touched people. When you had a moment alone with him, you had his complete focus and attention. And in that moment he made you feel as there was no place he would rather be. He laughed often, loved to tell jokes, snuck M&M’s to my kids a little too close to meal time and would drop just about anything if a child said, “Grandpa, come quick!”
You knew Grandpa loved you. He showed it and he lived it.
I only hope that when my time comes I have touched a fraction of the hearts my grandfather did and left behind people who knew beyond any doubt, that I cared.