Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Memories of a Great Man I Never Met

27 years ago today, there was an accident. My grandfather, the man who selected and purchased the farm on which half of my family lives, the man who built the riverfront cottage from which I have so many memories, the man who founded the company that puts food on the table of my grandmother, father, stepmom, uncles, aunts, cousins, and takes care of my wife and daughter, was killed.

Two months later I was born. I’m named after him, but called by my middle name, because his death was still too fresh. I see his portrait every day in the front hall of our office, but I’ve never seen his face.

And somehow, despite never having met the man, I miss him. Here are some memories that others have shared:

1. My grandfather used to love to watch the satellites go overhead at night. Back then there weren’t too many, and he knew which ones were which. My father came home one night, and went out back where my grandfather was watching satellites drinking Echo Spring. Dad sat down, and they stared at the sky in silence.

After a while, an opossum waddled up out of the woods, sniffed at the bourbon in grandpa’s glass, then went to the big bowl of dog-food by the door and helped itself. When it had finished eating, it wandered back over the hill. Silence returned to the back porch while more satellites passed overhead. Finally, my grandfather broke the silence:

“That was the ugliest dog I’ve ever seen.”

2. Another time, my grandfather was out in Columbus, OH. As he was walking into the back door of a watering-hole, a large man on the way out jostled him hard in the shoulder. Harsh words were exchanged, and the end result was that my grandfather continued on his way into the bar, leaving the other man lying in the alley.

That night, the same man arrived at my grandfather’s hotel. He was there to collect $500 for the suit that gramps had ruined during the fight. Grandpa said, no, I’m not paying you for the suit. Words were exchanged again, and granddad suggested that they step back outside. This time, however, the other man pulled his hand out from behind him to reveal a cast. Turns out that he had broken his hand on gramp’s head, but grandpa hadn’t noticed.

As an added twist, the Golden Gloves competition was in Columbus that weekend, and the large, suit wearing gentleman was the 2nd place champion.

Others have told me stories of when they were younger and got into trouble. They’ve said that often their parents would respond with “call Bill, he’ll take care of you.”

One employee at the company started in a temporary position for my grandfather. His two week employment has turned into 35 years. He still speaks with reverence whenever he tells a story about grandpa.

I don’t know what happens to us after we die, but I hope that wherever my grandfather is, he can see me, and find some reason to be proud.

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