The most important thing in my head right now is the fact that my “Grumps” (my mom’s dad1) passed away last week (Charlotte Observer obituary that I drafted a while back). It was expected, and, in fact, a blessing (he was at the point where they were using morphine for pain control), but being OK with it intellectually is not the same thing as absorbing it internally, which I’m still struggling with.
He was a great man, and I loved him a lot. In a time when little girls most often played with Barbie dolls, Grumps used to let me go out to his shop with him (if there were any questions about why my studio looks they way it does, I think this photo answers them) and saw and hammer and spray paint (supervised, of course). My “most bestest” project was the faux record player I made — completely non-functional (I still suck at electronics) but a rather good facsimile of the real thing, complete with a turntable, RPM knob and arm with needle (a nail). It was silly, to be sure (why? a non-functioning replica record player? why not something useful like a cabinet?), but that didn’t stop Grumps from encouraging me to do it.
Every (_every_) Saturday night (until the point he was too unwell to be at home) he cooked steak on a little (20″ diameter?) Weber grill that he made taller by stacking it on top of an old metal trash can. Before cooking them, he’d trim the steaks so they were uniform, and he called those pieces the “itty-bitties”. Often we ate the itty-bitties raw with Wor-chest-er-shire (as we called it) sauce, and those we didn’t eat “tartare” Grumps would grill. Because they were so small they were ready before the rest of the meat (my whole family eats steak rare — I say that we like our meat to have a fighting chance ), and if you asked nicely (and waited with Grumps at the grill) you could have an itty-bitty right off the fire — mmmmmm!
Grumps worked at the Carolina Motor Club (now part of the AAA) for his whole career and spent the last 20?ish years as the President, which had its perks. Every year, for example, until I was about 10, the Charlotte Thanksgiving parade went right by the Motor Club headquarters downtown, and we’d watch the whole thing from Grumps’s office window. (Mom recently reminded me that the judging station was right in front of the office too, so we saw the highlight of each band’s performance… maybe that’s where I got my love of drum-and-bugle corps type stuff?).
Grumps also worked for many years with the NC Travel Council, often donating to them clocks he’d made cases for in his shop (yes, even more tool chaos behind link) or carvings he’d done. As a result, he knew tons of folks in NC, including Andy Griffith. (For those unfamiliar with Mayberry, Grumps is on the left, and Andy is on the right).
Grumps also introduced me to the concept of a searcy (sp?)2 — a small, unexpected, for-no-special-occasion surprise. Grumps brought each of the grandkids a searcy when he came home from work … never anything large (often it was something like SuperElastic Bubble Plastic or a Slinky, or a pad of paper from the office scrap bin and colored pencils), but we loved it… I still give people searcies, often causing confusion (wait? was it my birthday and I forgot?!)
There’s a lot more to be said (and maybe I’ll manage to write some more another day), as witnessed by the fact that the three grandkids3 that spoke at Grumps’ memorial service (Tommy, Drew & I) each had come up with a different set of recollections — all wonderful). The fourth of us, my cousin Merry, is an amazing professional singer who sang two hymns at the service (honestly, I was mostly OK until she started singing the Lord’s Prayer…I haven’t heard her sing since we were 10 and duetting on “If”4)
Here’s roughly what I said (I didn’t take notes with me to the podium, ’cause if there’s one thing I can do, it’s talk, but this is what I remember):
When I was thinking about what to say today, I had a moment of indecision, as there are easily a thousand stories I could tell about Grumpsie-boy. This is the first that jumped to mind though, and it demonstrates how much he loved and was devoted to his family.
When I was 14, I had the opportunity to go to my first sleep-away camp — a good camp, the sister camp of the camp that my father and his brothers had gone to when they were young. Unfortunately, over the intervening twenty-mumble years, the character of the camp had changed and by the time I arrived it was mostly filled with girls who’d known each other since they were small and who, quite frankly, didn’t like me, an interloper, all that well.
Anyway, I was miserable and wanted very badly to come home, but was convinced to stick it out for the experience (and, yes, I’m glad I did). I called Grumps and boo-hoo-hoo’d to him, but he reminded me that I was a strong girl and that they couldn’t hurt me unless I let them (a valuable lesson I try to remember to this day), that I should show them love (even when they were unkind to me), and that he believed in me and loved me to pieces.
The next day, I received in the Camp Post a letter from Grumps…needless to say, I was cheered immediately. The letter wasn’t itself full of Earth-shattering content, being mainly an account of the things he and Buddy Boy (also known as Drew, my little brother) had done during the day, like going to Hardees to get biscuits and mowing the lawn. Woven throughout, though, were the reminders of how loved I was and that I could do anything I put my mind towards.
The letter, in and of itself, was not extraordinarily unusual. Don’t get me wrong — it was a wonderful letter! — but what really amazed me at the time (and still does to this day) is that *every* *single* *day* for the rest of camp I got another letter from Grumps.
Those letters from Grumps made all the difference in my experience at camp, and, more importantly, they taught me that true love — great love — is not found written on billboards or yelled at the top of your lungs, but instead shown by all the small things you do every single day.
1 He chose the name Grumps for himself, when asked shortly after I was born what he wanted to be called. We don’t know why — he was just about the furthest thing from grumpy possible…
2 As an adult, I’ve only met two other people, Heather and Ann, who also know what a searcy is. As they’re both Southerners, I’m hypothesizing that it’s perhaps a Southern thing?)
3 From left to right, Tommy, Merry, me (kneeling) and Drew
4 Yes, the one by Bread. eek.”