This coming Thursday would have been my grandfather's 100th birthday. For someone who can remember when he was fifty-six, it's nearly unfathomable to me how quickly forty-odd years can pass. Then again, I'll be forty-nine in a couple of weeks and can recall with great clarity my first day in third grade...the very same age my pal, Danta, is this year. His birthday is the day before mine, and I often tease him that since he was born earlier, he should be older.
"Yeah, but you were born in a different year, Kate," Danta always grins. "That's why you'll always be older." His elfish smile reminds me of my grandfather's grin that's reflected in childhood photographs in which I'm tucked into Granddaddy's arms as he watches over me.
Since my return from California, memories from the past have been regularly revisiting me in dreams, in meditations, and in flashes of insight that come out of the dark and cast new light on how very far I've traveled in this lifetime. I often wonder what my grandfather would have to say about where I've been, who I am now compared to who I was when he passed away in 1990. Would he be confused about my choices? Disappointed that life didn't turn out the way I had hoped? Or would be as supportive now as he always was when I first flew out of the family nest and created one of my own?
It's hard to say.
This world is a vastly different one since he left it, and not only because I still miss him. I hardly recognize the social environment I'm subject to whenever I venture out into the public arena. And when I turn on my computer to catch up on email and peruse the news on the internet, I'm often appalled by the way people behave, the way they post abusive comments or scrape the bottom of the social barrel to hammer home an opinion. It makes me long for the days of social decorum (as opposed to uber-political correctness), kindness (as opposed to public shaming), and a healthy sense of self-control (as opposed to the "no holds barred" method of commentating).
My grandfather endured a host of incomparable changes during his lifetime. He was born on the cusp of World War I, came of age in The Great Depression, and served in the military during World War II. He lived through The Cold War, The Koren War, The Vietnam War, and the assassinations of two Kennedys, and Martin Luther King. Of course I didn't stand witness to the man he was during those experiences, but I was a keen observer of the man he became in middle-age and beyond. When my family visited his paint and supply store in Huntington, West Virginia, I watched how he interacted with customers and other employees. I marveled at his wit and wisdom when sharing an idea about a paint color or a "better way to build a mousetrap". He was humorous and generous and gregarious -- a wonderful example to follow when I became a teacher in my early twenties.
I was thinking about Granddaddy yesterday while walking at Secor Park, a newly re-discovered oasis in northwest Ohio. As I meandered my way along the winding path, I wondered, What would Granddaddy think about the world we live in now? Would he be appalled? Would he have any words of wisdom for me as I struggle to find some meaning in the mayhem? I don't really know, for it's impossible to put words into anyone's mouth, least of all a dear man who always surprised me with a clever one-liner of insight, revealing his razor-sharp clarity as well as an awareness of the unity of all things.
It's not that I put my grandfather on a pedestal. I'm sure he had his foibles, although I can't recall any. Throughout my childhood and beyond, he was my Yoda and my Gandalf and my Merlin, all rolled into one; a magical man who always made me feel loved. That's a blessing I still lean on, now more than ever.
So "Happy Birthday" to my wonderful Granddaddy. Had he lived to be 100 I'm certain there would never be an end to his wisdom, humility, and kindness. Then again, through all of those who knew and loved him, his magical influence will live on...forever.
|With Granddaddy, circa 1967|