My goal of writing every day for 40 days hit a snag recently. Sometimes life gets in the way of writing, and there isn’t a damn thing that you can do about it.
About two weeks ago I received one of those phone calls that you never want to receive. I listened dumbly as my mother informed me that my grandfather had passed away. The news was hard to even process, as my grandfather was a man so full of life that I almost expected to find my own way into the grave before he did. His death was not something that I was prepared for.
I think I always knew that my “Pappy” would pass suddenly, having spent the days leading up to his death engaged in hard labor. I never knew my grandfather to be one to lounge around. He worked harder in his 70s and 80s than most people ever will during their life, and not because he had to. I honestly don’t think that there was anything in life that he enjoyed more than a hard day’s work. That isn’t to say that my grandfather didn’t know how to have fun. Despite working harder than anyone that I have ever known, he also pursued his hobbies with equal gusto. For most of my life I can remember him taking annual pilgrimages across the country to go fishing in various locals, often deciding spur-of-the-moment to embark on a trip to go flounder fishing.
When I first saw the Dos Equis commercials featuring a man alleged to be “The most interesting man in the world”, I always felt that my grandfather could give him a run for his money. Pappy grew up dirt poor, in the most literal sense possible. He grew up farming in central Texas, living in a small house with a dirt floor. With all the determination that poverty can breed in a young man, he managed to finish among the top of his high school class, despite missing a significant amount of class time to work on the family farm. There was nothing more important to him than education; he knew that it was his ticket to a better life for himself and his family. The same drive that got him through high school got him through a stint in the Air Force and a college degree.
Stories of the following years of my grandfather’s life are made up of a mixture of verifiable facts and yarns with the bouquet of “big fish”. The two elements are often too tightly intertwined to tell truth from fiction, but always have enough verisimilitude to be believable. Here are some of the facts:
Fact – My grandfather worked in the oil business for Champion Chemicals and became the head of their international sales division.
Fact – During his time with Champion, my grandfather traveled all over the world, and specifically spent a great deal of time in the Middle East.
Fact – These travels lead my grandfather to develop friendships with a number of foreign dignitaries, including the royal families of several Middle Eastern countries.
Beneath these facts dwell a bevy of unverifiable tales, most of which I have no reason to doubt. Pappy would tell us stories about landing in one of the many Muslim countries that he would routinely visit, and his plane would be stopped by a Rolls Royce owned by a ruling prince prior to reaching the gate so that he could be whisked off the plane to deliver a gift of a ham sandwich and a bottle of Scotch. He would talk about meeting a young Saddam Hussein, who even then seemed a little “off” to him. He also claimed to have inadvertently invented the leisure suit when he visited a tailor in Europe and handed a design for a suit that was based on a safari getup, but that could be worn with a tie in casual situations. It just so happened that his plane ride to Paris coincided with a gaggle of designers traveling to a fashion show, and he swears that within a year he was seeing variations on his suit everywhere. With all of the other improbable things that happened in my grandfather’s life, I almost believe even the unlikely leisure suit story.
My grandfather wasn’t perfect. He possessed that racism that is common among members of his generation from the South. I can remember watching Cowboys games with him when I was a kid, and him informing me that Randall Cunningham would never win a championship because there had never been a black man smart enough to play quarterback in the NFL. He was also opinionated to a fault, which I am quite certain lead certain locals to tag him a “son’ bitch.” Despite these faults, he was a hard man to dislike, or to not respect. He was a wise man, a shrewd business person, and extremely generous.
When I look at the person that I have become, many of the best parts of my character are part of a heritage that I received from my grandfather. He taught me that anything worth doing is worth doing with all you can muster. He taught me the value of chasing what is really important to you, and not being denied when you set out to achieve your dreams. Most importantly, he taught me the value of family. When I think about the fact that I will never see him in this world again, I certainly feel the grief that is common in these situations, but I also realize that I carry him with me everywhere I go. With every dream that I achieve, goal that I accomplish, and day’s work that I complete, my Pappy will live on.