I need to preface this post by apologizing for the melancholy post. However, today is a day for remembering so I want to share with you some information and memories about someone very special to me.
One year ago today, I received a call in the wee hours of the morning letting me know that my rock, my constant, a man I looked up to above all others had slipped away in the night. I was devastated. I’m still devastated. My grandfather, the man who raised me, was such an amazing person. He was the eldest of nine children–born into a family that lived in a two room house where you could hear the chickens under the floor. Growing up, he had to help with the younger children and pitch in on raising a tobacco crop. He graduated salutatorian of his high school class missing out on valedictorian by the smallest of measures due to an illness. He met the woman of his dreams, joined the navy, and corresponded with her while he was overseas.
He and my grandmother had two children and three grandchildren. I was the grandchild lucky enough to live with them. He worked for the government and was on the road constantly when his children were young trying to provide them with a better start than he had. I think he tried to make up for that with me.
He would often pick me up from school and didn’t complain (much) about how long I spent in the library looking for books while he waited. He eventually started bringing the paper to read to give me time to commune with my books.
My grandfather instilled within me a love of gardening. I have fond memories of being so small I could barely hold onto the hoe and helping him plant a garden. Back then, he had a garden so big it spanned close to an acre and produced tons of vegetables for canning.
After retiring, he went to work at Dollywood for a while as a conductor on the train. He loved that job. It was easy, fun, and got him out of the house. He especially enjoyed it when we stopped by for a train ride so that he could show off for us a little.
He wasn’t perfect. In fact, I think he was one of the messiest eaters I’ve ever met–crumbs everywhere. He could be grumpy, and he had definite opinions. However, he was generous, kind, and caring.
I received the first Dolly Parton Scholarship when I graduated from high school, and my grandparents came along for the photo op set up for the paper. As soon as Dolly saw him, she exclaimed, “Uncle Ben!!” I didn’t realize he knew her, but I got to hear some stories that night about her growing up.
Papaw built a home for his family on three acres of property in Wears Valley. They had the first home (aside from the original farmhouse) in the neighborhood. He loved landscaping it, and planted a whole orchard full of apple trees that I played among when I was little.
When Ian and I purchased our first house, my grandfather was there almost immediately helping us fix it up. He would pull out his little calculator and start “figuring.” He was always the man to go to for advice and building.
I was told (obviously I have no memory of this) that I slept on his belly so much when I was little that I wouldn’t go to sleep in my crib unless I had a pillow underneath me.
My grandparents took me all over the mountains when I was little. We probably had pictures at every sign in this area of the Smoky Mountains. He especially enjoyed going to the Blue Ridge Parkway because he helped plan the roads and bridges for it as well as supervising the construction.
Even as an adult, I could go crawl in my Papaw’s lap when I had a problem, and he would make it seem like everything would be okay.
I miss him so very much. On this day, I take special care to remember him and all the ways he made my life better.
Papaw, I wish you were here.