Fridays with Grandpa

This is the first in an occasional series, Fridays With Grandpa

I ring the bell and rap on Grandpa’s door in the early morning light, then wait.

At 94, Grandpa’s steps are slower, more deliberate. But his mind is as sharp as a switchblade, his spirit chipper and his eyes filled with sunshine.


Grandpa is a whistler. And I have surmised, after all these years, that whistling is a subconscious act of Grandpa’s soul — as pure as a dog’s tail wagging.

I can still see Grandpa when I was a boy — his leather mail satchel slung over his shoulder — whistling a tune after a day’s work as he neared the brownish brick house on West Van Buren Street, where the family gathered for Christmas and Easter dinner with all the trimmings.

The scents of Grandmother’s peach cobbler and cornbread dressing filled the house with mouth-watering temptation. The kids and adults laughed and joked, like one big happy family, even when we weren’t.

After all these years, time, life and tears, it is sometimes hard to remember the way we were.

Grandmother, to whom Grandpa was married for almost six and a half decades, went on to be with the Lord late one January winter’s night in 2002. I drove speedily toward the hospital after we got the news. But I knew she would be gone. It was as if I felt her spirit pass like a gentle wind extinguishing a flickering candle flame.

Although Grandmother had been sick for a while — and her passing, our imminent expectation — nothing, absolutely nothing, could have prepared us for the void she left.

And if I had my issues with family and the family church before then, and if there were unresolved family matters, past hurts or slights — perceived or real — for any of us, it was clear that our great moderator had left us to repair, heal and resolve them for ourselves.

I have always looked up to Grandpa, revered him as a man who adored his wife and five daughters — my mother among them — and one son. For being the kind of man who walked softly and yet securely enough to not feel the need to beat his chest or throttle up the bass in his voice to prove his manhood.

His daughters, whose hair he sometimes combed as little girls, adored him. His son idolized him.

His blue-collar, southern-bred, work ethic and Pentecostal upbringing made him stubbornly resistant to the wiles of the world that ensnared many a would-be-family man with good intentions. Even if, back in the day, Grandpa was known to be a sharpshooter with a pool stick and smoked Chesterfield cigarettes. This before he heeded the Lord’s call to become a devout deacon, then preacher and pastor.

As much as I have always loved and respected him, we have had our differences. I expressed mine. And he plainly expressed his. We are alike in our stubbornness and passion. Imperfect men bonded by familial blood and eternal ties.

Except time is on no man’s side. Not mine. Not his. Not ours.

So I stand at Grandpa’s door knocking — seeking to absorb perhaps a little more wisdom, perhaps a few more lessons. Hoping to hear the myriad, often humorous, tales about his life: from small-town Pulaski, Ill., to the big city. About snow cream and cow chip tea.

And about how he has managed all these years, after all he’s seen and been through, to not be bitter, but better, for it.

I stand knocking, less as the writer, and more as a grandson, longing simply to sit in the presence of a loving grandfather.


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