We understood Grandpa. And he understood us.
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This week’s column is an excerpt from John Fountain’s memoir “True Vine” in honor of his grandfather, the Rev. George A. Hagler who passed away a year ago this month at 97.
Grandpa was always the provider. He was a kind of man with a peaceful, soft-spoken demeanor. Grandpa never drank liquor, although he did at one time smoke Chesterfield cigarettes and developed into quite the marksman with a pool stick long before his preaching days.
He had a kind of quiet respectability that said, “I’m a nice guy, but don’t mess with me.” We kids seldom did and, on rare occasion, only by accident. We understood Grandpa. And he understood us. His mere presence and the occasional turning up of the bass in his voice were enough to evoke the fear of God.
Once when most of his children were grown and gone, a drunken man somehow ended up at Grandpa’s door late one night, banging and demanding to be let in. Grandmother screamed for the man to go away, saying that he must have the wrong house.
Grandpa quietly loaded his shotgun and sat down at the kitchen table, waiting for the man to bust through the door so he could drop ‘im.
“Mister, please go away, Mister pleeezzzz,” Grandmother begged. “If you come in here, my husband is gonna kill you. Mister please … ”
Grandpa never uttered a word. And the man, who finally came to himself and went away, had Grandmother and the Good Lord to thank for sparing his life that day.
Grandpa didn’t play. But Grandmother was a softy. … When Grandmother had had enough of our playful vexing and still we would not shut up or when we had disobeyed far too many times, she ordered us into the backyard to pick a switch from a bush.
… Even the idea of Grandmother administering corporal punishment, which was seldom, cracked us up so much that we could hardly keep a straight face even as she raised her hand to do what she deemed to be her regrettable duty, which we know truly hurt her more than it ever hurt us.
Grandmother was good at many things. Whipping was not one of them. But she always had a hole card, one that she rarely ever used. Just flashing it was enough.
“That’s all right,” she would say in frustration. “Daddy will be here after while.” “Daddy” was how she referred to my grandfather.
… We always straightened right up.
“Okay, Grandmother, we’ll be good, we’ll be good,” most of us would respond. “All right, all right, don’t tell Grandpa.”
My cousin Michael was hardheaded. And he often dismissed Grandmother’s warnings as quickly as she had uttered them.
“Man, she gonna tell Grandpa,” I would say to Michael.
“Grandpa ain’t gon’ do nothin’ to me,” he’d say, his eyes widening and playful. “I ain’t scared of Grandpa.”
“Fool, Grandpa gon’ kill you, man,” I warned, thinking as I did most of the time that Michael must be crazy.
Michael laughed, his fire finally turning into mush.
“I’m just playin’ man. I ain’t no fool,” he’d say. “All right, Grandmother, I’ll be good. Don’t tell Grandpa. … For real, Grandmother, for real. Don’t tell Grandpa.”
Thank God she seldom did tell Grandpa.
It is a strange thing, loving someone and being so full of admiration and yet so afraid of that person all at the same time. That was how we felt about Grandpa. But it wasn’t fear in a bad way.
We weren’t afraid that he would abuse us, or anything like that. We were just too terrified “to act a fool,” as my Aunt Mary often characterized misbehaving.
It was good fear. And Grandpa was a good man.
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