A Few Thoughts About my Grandpa Guy

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No jokes about how much hair I had in this photo.

My Grandpa Guy – my dad’s dad – passed away Sunday (Aug. 23). I prefer the euphemism “passed away” to “died.” Actually, the best option now that I think about it is “went home to be with the Lord.” It sounds like a trite cliche or church-speak, but it’s true for those that have put their hope and faith in Jesus Christ. Grandpa Guy put his faith in Jesus long ago. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 says it very well: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus.” I mourn Grandpa Guy’s loss and I’m very sad that my dad doesn’t get any more time with his dad, but – and there is a but! – we do not grieve like those who have no hope! Jesus is our hope!

***

I am remarkably lucky in that I got to live these first 33 years with all of my biological grandparents still around. My life is much richer for having relationships and memories with them, Grandpa Guy included. I’m also grateful for the step-grandparents God has brought into my family. (My step-grandpa, Don “went home to be with the Lord” seven years ago.) My step-grandma/Grandpa Guy’s wife, Marilyn, is an incredibly sweet woman and I’m so happy Grandpa Guy had her to take care of him.

***

There’s a lot I don’t know about Grandpa Guy’s life. I know he was in “the service.” I know he was incredibly handy, and worked for years as a mechanic. He was remarkably clever. He would stare at a problem until he thought of a solution. He was always recycling old parts or finding new uses for the leftover pieces of a broken-down old lawn mower. That resourcefulness is a memory that will stand out.

One of the things I do know is this incredible anecdote my dad would tell: years ago when they were young kids, Grandpa Guy was driving my Aunt and dad down the highway when the convertible they were driving flipped over. I don’t know the circumstances or causes of the accident, but I know Grandpa Guy and my Aunt Susie somehow made it out of the car uninjured. Dad was trapped under the car, being squished into the soft mud from the previous night’s rain. Finally realizing where his son was, Grandpa Guy – here, I picture him turning into the Hulk of Superman – bent over and lifted the edge of the car while my Aunt Susie pulled my dad out from under the car. He was a little muddy, but otherwise no worse for wear.  This story amazed me for years. Wouldn’t it amaze you? Grandpa Guy was literally a superhero! A few years ago I finally heard Grandpa Guy tell the story,  and he included this detail: the car was a Nash Metropolitan! I had always imagined a massive, two-ton ’57 Chevy, but the car in question weighed less than VW Bug! I know it’s still a miraculous feat of strength and an example of God’s providence, but learning the truth about the car was one of the biggest disappointments of my life!

I have no idea who this fella is. I just wanted to show you the scale of the car.

I have no idea who this guy is. He isn’t MY Guy. I just wanted to show you the scale of  this silly little car.

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When I turned 15 and started wanting a car, my dad and I bought a 1985 Honda Accord (NOT a Nash Metropolitan). The engine was shot, but it looked good. We also bought a 1984 Accord with a rough body, but a strong engine. We towed both cars to Grandpa Guy’s house and over many months, he slowly pulled the ’84’s engine apart and transplanted it into the ’85. Dad and I came down on weekends and helped out the best we could, but it was 98 percent Grandpa Guy. The two years’ engines were supposed to be identical, but when everything was in place, there was one vacuum line that had nowhere to go. It wouldn’t start and he stared at the engine for hours. Eventually, he became convinced that if he couldn’t figure out where it went, it wasn’t necessary. He went over to his work bench, fished a #2 pencil from an old coffee can and poked it into the end of the hose to plug it up. The car started up, then pencil stayed there, it ran like a champ. He eventually replaced the pencil with a permanent solution – a drywall screw – and I drove the car for years with no problems.

***

When I little, it took me forever to figure out that Grandpa Guy’s name was actually Guy. I honestly thought mom and dad didn’t know his name and were just calling him Grandpa Man or Grandpa Fella. I may not have been the brightest kid.

***

Grandpa Guy smoked for many years. Then when I was maybe 10 he quit cold turkey. I can’t quit anything cold turkey, let alone one of the most addictive substances known to man. I respect him immensely for his determination and stubbornness.

***

Some people aren’t comfortable with silence. Grandpa Guy wasn’t one of those people. He didn’t mind lulls in conversation, and that’s just fine.

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I’ve never been much of a fisherman or a hunter, but one of the few times I went fishing and the only time I ever went hunting was with Grandpa Guy. We didn’t see any deer, and I didn’t catch any fish on that pre-dawn fishing trip. My cousin Jordan caught several and I remember bursting into tears at my inferior fishing skills. I don’t necessarily recall him having any particularly comforting words of wisdom, but I do remember he cooked us eggs for breakfast and they were awesome.

***

It's held up remarkably well!

It’s held up remarkably well!

Grandpa guy gave me three of my best gifts I’ve ever received. The first was a pocket knife when I was 8 or 9 years old. It was a standard black Victorinox Swiss Army knife: knife blade, nail file/screw driver, scissors, a tooth pic and tweezers. It came in the mail and I was in awe. Predictably, I had it out of the box for two or three minutes before I accidentally cut my finger. If you wanted to, you could make this into a deep metaphor or life lesson from Grandpa Guy, something about tools/knives are useful but you need to treat them with respect or something like that. I don’t think I ever thought of it that way. It was just a cool gift for a grandpa to give a kid. I’ve long lost the tweezers and toothpick, but the knife – sharp as ever – is still on my keychain.

The second gift I remember came at Christmas a year or so later. I remember my sister and cousin Brooke opening their presents first: a pair of dolls. Then my cousin Jordan and I got to open our present. Continuing the theme of sharp gifts, Grandpa guy had given us each a small red hatchet. Jordan and I could not have been more excited if he’d given us a million dollars. One of the adults – I don’t remember who – was horrified. “Why would you give them a hatchet!?” “Well,” Grandpa Guy shrugged, “I just figured every boy needs a hatchet.” I think he was absolutely right! I never cut down a tree – and thankfully I never cut myself – with it, but I LOVED my hatchet. I’m pretty sure I tried to sleep with it like a stuffed animal that night.

Finally, there’s the last thing he ever gave me. When he learned that I had gotten into sport shooting and gun collecting, Grandpa Guy wanted me to have his old .410 side-by-side shotgun. We don’t know exactly how old it, but Grandpa Guy guessed he bought it in the early/mid 1950s. It’s not the oldest item in my collection, nor is it particularly valuable, but it’s probably my favorite. Grandpa Guy said he used it to kill many a squirrel. I’ve used it to kill many a watermelon.

Looks pretty good, doesn't it?

Looks pretty good, doesn’t it?

***

Like I said, I don’t know a lot of the details of Grandpa Guy’s life – especially before I was born. Come to think of it, it’s pretty hard for me to imagine any of my grandparents pre-me. One thing I do know is that Grandpa Guy wasn’t always happy with his life, especially during the years before I was born. I think he would have been the first to tell you this. I’ve heard Grandpa Guy tell my dad that he sometimes wasn’t the best father, and that may be true. Frankly, it’s not something I need to know. What I do know is this: A) Though he was in poor health at the end, he was a happier man. B) There are many, MANY things I learned from my dad that he learned from Grandpa Guy. Through his successes and shortcomings, Grandpa Guy helped shaped my dad in to the father that he is and I’m a better man for it. I know how important it was for my dad to hear from Grandpa Guy that he was proud of him, and I am positive that it why my dad makes it a point to tell me the same thing every opportunity he gets. If I know how to do anything vaguely manly – how to change a tire, remove a stripped screw, gap a spark plug, how NOT to cut yourself with a hatchet – it’s because Grandpa Guy first taught my dad.

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