A Tribute to My Granddad
Author’s note: I was sorting through some old files and found something I wrote for my Granddad’s funeral in June 2007. This month marks five years since he graduated to glory. I still tear up when I think about him sometimes. He is in my Hall of Faith.
I got the call about Granddad on Saturday morning. As is natural when a loved one dies, I began to reminisce. Hoping to eventually share my thoughts with someone, I quickly began to write them down. I did not intend for the list to be so long but I soon found that I had many memories of Granddad. I continued to jot things down not knowing what would come of the information. Soon I realized that I spent the majority of my childhood with Grandma and Granddad in the same town and my cousins had not had the same opportunity. This fact certainly didn’t result in me being the favorite Grandchild – we all were his favorite. He spent as much time as he could with all of us. I was fortunate enough to have a lot of time with him. I asked Grandma if she would allow me to say some things. She has but I don’t know if she realized this would turn into the epistle that it is.
My first thoughts ran to his title – Granddad. To this day I don’t know why I call him Granddad instead of Grandpa. I can only say that growing up it was easy to distinguish between sets of grandparents. Grandma and Granddad were my dad’s parents and Grandma and Grandpa were my mom’s parents. Though this distinction was not an ongoing source of conflict among the cousins, I specifically recall an instance years ago with my cousin Jenny. My brother and I were trying to convince her that she should stop calling him Grandpa and start calling him Granddad. Though Michael and I were never able to convince her to change, I maintain that we are correct because the Nelson cousins also call him Granddad.
I remembered several other things about Granddad including, showing us his teeth, watching old war movies, playing Wheel of Fortune with him and Grandma (he would always complain that she was cheatin’), drinking his “real” eggnog (every time he would make eggnog, Michael and I would drink so much that we would get upset stomachs. Man was it good though), or leaving at 4:30 in the morning to drive 16.5 hours to Aunt Sherry’s house. Michael and I loved it. Grandma let me sit in the front seat and Granddad had me take over the wheel a few times (from the passenger seat) so he could pour himself some coffee. More than once throughout the trip we would have someone pass us. Granddad would take that opportunity to explain his philosophy of the speed limit. He would say it is safest to go 5 mph over so you don’t get stopped. He said going any faster really didn’t matter than much because it would only gain you like 15 minutes on a long trip. I didn’t do the math, but I’m sure Granddad was right.
I remember the particular benefits to having your Grandparents live in the same town. After school, Michael and I would walk or ride our bikes to Grandma and Granddad’s house. Grandma would usually have a snack for us. We would eat it at the table and then venture downstairs to watch afternoon cartoons. Soon we would hear Granddad coming down the stairs – it was after the close of the stock market and Granddad always wanted to know where his money was. By his methodical ways with his investments he taught me how to read the ticker on CNBC. I learned how often the DOW would come around so that over time Granddad didn’t need to come downstairs. He would just stand at the top and holler down for the numbers. Eventually, of course, he moved the television upstairs.
I also remember going to the bowling league over in Wichita with Granddad. I remember one occasion when out of the corner of my eye, I saw Granddad’s head bob severely. This was just a few years after his last open-heart surgery so I thought the worst. Then I thought he might be falling asleep. Finally, I concluded that he was just trying to read the speedometer through his “quadfocals.”
Some of my fondest memories of Granddad are playing golf together. I stop short of saying that Granddad taught me anything about how to swing because he swing was one of the more unorthodox I have ever seen – it was strictly utilitarian. I remember my dad would often try to remind Granddad of the basic physics of a golf swing – it’s hard to develop any force behind a ball when your feet are off the ground at impact. Were I not dressed in a suit I would attempt to demonstrate.
I played golf with Granddad on many summer mornings when the dew was still on the ground. Sometimes it was with friends of his but others it would be just him and me. I would wait by the screen door of our house on # 4 and see the red cart rounding the bend of the trees of No. 5’s tee box and know that it was him coming to pick me up. These were the days before we needed tee times so we would make our way up to the first hold and tee off. I remember Granddad challenging me by offering $1 for the first time I broke 50 and $5 for the first time I beat him.
Scores didn’t matter much. We did keep score, though, mainly because I wanted to make sure that when I broke 50 he would pay up and if in the off chance I beat him, I would have a record of it.
As we would finish the second hold and stop at #3 tee, it would be time for lemonade. Granddad consistently brought along a thermos of lemonade. He and I would break out one cup on the third tee and then put it away until the seventh tee. There was enough in the thermos for two cups each with just a little left over. As we would drive down the fairway of #7 he would usually tell me to “kill it.” So I would finish the lemonade.
Perhaps he didn’t know it but Granddad taught me many character lessons. Whether it was how to respond to a bad day on the golf course or how to “take the Queen with a smile” playing Hearts, Granddad taught me that regardless of how bad it is, I should do right and have a good attitude.
Probably the most important lessons he taught me were how to act in church. My earliest memories of church are those of me sitting by him in the service. Before the service would begin, he would show me how to look in the bulletin for what songs we would sing and mark them in the hymnal. Granddad taught me how to put money in the offering plate as it was passed by. He showed me how it was proper to bow my head and close my eyes when we prayed. Since Brother Goudie is here I will mention that there were times that the prayers were so long that when I opened my eyes it was as though I had been in a dark room for a log time and someone suddenly turned on the lights. Granted, most of Granddad taught me was external. I was a kid though, and that’s what I needed.
I remember when Granddad had his last open-heart surgery. After the surgery he was sent home with this breathing thing to help measure the strength of his lungs. He let Michael and I try it some. Even though he had just finished open-heart surgery, his lungs were still stronger than ours. One of the fruits of that time was Granddad’s testimony of salvation. I do not recall much of him telling me how he go saved or even when but I do remember that he wrote two poems while he was in the hospital. Once of them was simple for me to remember, “Jesus is the answer, Jesus is the way, Jesus is the Son of God to whom I daily pray…” While I do not remember the rest of that poem or even the content of the second, I do remember understanding that Granddad was confident in his salvation.
The last time I saw Granddad was a few years ago. My wife and I were driving back up from my Grandpa’s funeral and we stopped in to say hi. I sort of lamented to Grandma and Granddad that Rhoda Jane and I had wanted to sing but were not able to. He said without hesitation, “You can sing at my funeral. And I’ve even got a song. Do you know ‘There’s Something About that Name?’” I said yes and he said, “Well, you can sing that at my funeral. That’s my favorite song.”
I got the music and began practicing. I remembered, though, what Granddad used to do. I remember him keeping a harmonica on the coffee table in front of the couch. Occasionally, when I would pull the harmonica out and look at it, Granddad would as me if I wanted to hear him play it. He would take the harmonica and play his favorite song. So, thought, rather than sing the full arrangement of it I would do my best to do what he did and pull out the harmonica to play the song. [At this point, I played on the harmonica the melody to "There's Just Something About That Name."] Then he would sing the text. [And I sang the first verse.] After that, we would just sit there in a comfortable silence.
I wanted to give tribute to my Granddad today by sharing some of my memories. I didn’t know him well enough to tell you everything about who he was, but I hope I have given you a small picture of who he was to me.