His hands were clasped, elbows resting on the table as he leaned in and talked. His knuckles were calloused from the lumber mills and coal mines, from the early mornings on the farm, lined and scarred by the years that wore on them. But his hands were thick and strong and inspired stories of hard work and safety. They made me remember my days as a young boy sitting in his lap, trying to pry my Granddad’s great fist apart as he toyed with me and slowly let his fingers open. Once I had it open, I would measure my tiny fingers against the palm of his giant hand.
His voice has a southern drawl, though he grew up in the hills of West Virginia. It’s smooth and stammering as he recollects stories from his childhood. Stories about how he asked his sister to get him a drink when he was hoeing corn in the sun. When she refused, she thought he was going to pull her pigtails so she took off running and locked herself in the outhouse. He chuckled now as he described how he took a hammer and wood and nailed the door shut!
He had a lot of words of wisdom this trip. Some were truths that didn’t need to be said, but he said them anyway. Lines like, “This will probably be the last time you’ll see me in this lifetime.” gripped me and wouldn’t let me go. He knew it. I knew it. This was probably our goodbye. I will remember it forever.
Other words spoken by my Grandma made me sad. She sat by my mom on the couch across the room, watching her great grandchildren play – my children – as she motioned towards me and asked, “Who is he?” I don’t think she wanted me to hear her, and I acted like I didn’t. These were only brief moments. Most times she knew me and poured her love on me with spontaneous hugs and sentences like, “I’m just so glad you’re here!”
We were there to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. It’s not officially until December, but we set the table in March with the Christmas patterned plates and cloths. The spread was fit for a feast. But there are things about that dinner I wish I could forget. Like the uncomfortable silence from the day’s fighting, like the awkwardness of the hurt we all brought to the table. I wish I could let that go. But that dinner was meant to be profound, and I can’t excuse any of it. What stings most are the words spoken by my Granddad just a few minutes earlier. Words that calmed us all down and got us to gather around the table instead of going our separate ways.
“I don’t expect you to do anything fancy for us for our anniversary, you just being here is enough. Seeing you all here, together, and knowing that we all get along, that’s the greatest gift you could give us.”
And that’s something to remember.