Today my mom’s father would have turned 101. It would have been awesome to see his face on the Smucker’s jar. I miss that guy! He taught me a lot of stuff by just doing what he did. Likewise, this weekend I was found myself thinking about my dad’s parents and their impact on my life.
I’ll never forget that tiny house lined with furniture or the completely plush 1977 Oldsmobile Delta 98, with electric windows and locks! Nor will I forget the square pizza that my grandmother would bring home from the school cafeteria. I could probably go on, but the biggest thing I recalled this weekend occurred over a few days in the spring of 1984 to a younger version of me – a small 12-year-old boy. I knew something was going on that night when I heard my parents scurrying around the house. The next morning when I come downstairs to the kitchen for breakfast, my mom told me as gently as she could that my grandmother had passed away the night before.
Traditionally my family is not an emotional family. Emotion is something that is just not shown- except maybe for anger, I guess. Anyway, in typical stoical fashion, I took the news like I had just been told the Steelers had lost the night before. I mean, I like the Steelers, but I really don’t care whether they win or lose, ever.
In actuality, on the inside, I was thinking about how much I loved her. Just months earlier, my family had moved to the little town where they lived and I was really just getting to know her. Most of the previous interactions were over the holidays or during an occasional summer visit. Still, I loved her, her cooking, her kisses and her big smothering hugs. At least, that’s how I remember them. Oddly, as a youngster and maybe even now, I don’t particularly like being held hard for a long time.
My memories of her are mostly limited but for crying out loud, I can’t recall the names of all of my elementary teachers either. Sometimes, I think my long-term memory is deficient. On occasion, however, I can remember a few things about her besides the late night cokes and popcorn and the incredible meals we would eat around that little table in that tiny house.
The biggest and most persistent memory of my grandparents, however, occurred over the next few days. After the funeral, I remember climbing into the car to go to the cemetery. I’m the youngest of 4, so as we climbed into the car I was in front, on the hump. My father was driving the vehicle and my grandfather climbed in beside me, totally distraught with tears flowing.
He had just said goodbye to the love of his life.
What did I know about that? I was more concerned with making sure my baseball card collection was complete. As someone told me recently, I tend to think the world rotates around me, and I think I always have.
Anyway, there my grandfather was, overwhelmed with grief. Slowly, he reached his trembling hand out towards me.
This is where I think I might have some serious issues that I still haven’t uncovered going on deep inside of me.
There’s his hand on my leg. And there I am totally paralyzed. A dumb 12-year-old boy scared and unsure of what to do.
I did nothing!
Later my father mentioned to me that I should have taken his hand.
Of course, I should have. He didn’t have to tell me, although I was glad he did.
That moment has stuck with me for years. For some reason, I think about it a lot. I learned something that day. Well, I learned lots of things that day, at that moment.
My inaction that day has been the impetus for a lot of action through time.
In that car, I learned about compassion and a little bit of how to deal with people. I learned that the best time to learn can be when things seem the hardest. I learned that it’s ok to share and lean on others and I learned that sometimes when you feel uncertain, you should just go and do. But mostly I learned that hurting people just need a hand. Nothing else, no words, no actions, just a bit of humanity to hold on to.
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:2