Grandpa Jack, he had a saying for just about every occasion. He was bigger than life, with a twinkle in his eyes and a chuckle in his chest. To us grandkids, he was all about fun. We camped, played baseball, fished from his boat, spit watermelon seeds off his cabin porch, and enjoyed raucous family holidays with Grandpa. We adored our Grandpa Jack.
Born to sharecroppers in Tennessee, he pulled himself up "by his bootstraps." Arriving in Phoenix, Arizona as a teenager, he found his charms could get any girl's attention. In fact, he spent his life using those charms to his advantage. Curly black hair, big wide grin, broad strong shoulders, and a confident air made everyone want to know him.
Grandpa met Grandma at a community dance. From the moment they danced the Charleston together, they became partners, dancing partners that is. They married young -- eloped, to the chagrin of my great-grandparents. Grandma was from the right side of the tracks and well, Grandpa definitely was not.
To the day she died, Grandma was petite, pretty, polished, and polite. Grandpa took on some culture; but at heart, he was always a country boy.
In a room filled with people, he'd be surrounded by laughter. If kids were around, he'd entertain them with his stories and jokes.
"You want to hear that backwards?" he'd asked. Someone would yell, "yes," wondering how he'd pull that off. Then he would turn around backwards in his chair and tell the same joke.
His own uproarious laughter drew in one and all.
His favorite story involved dynamite. Whenever we were bored, we would ask Grandpa to tell that story. He never told it quite the same way, but it always ended with the boy, Jack, being shot out of a well by the force of the dynamite, alive, but just barely. He had lots of stories from his unorthodox childhood, which seemed to be full of narrow misses.
His adulthood was not so orthodox either, having its own share of narrow misses.
During the depression, he worked three jobs. One was driving an ice truck so early in the morning that "the birds weren't out yet." That is, until he fell asleep at the wheel and drove right into a tree.
Working the docks during the war, he often told about the time he got chemicals in his eyes. "I was blind for three days and then, poof, my eyesight came back. I sure was lucky." We thought so, too.
Then, there was the time an old man asked him why his feet were so big. "So when I'm old and fat like you, I can hold up my big belly." Grandpa answered. Grandma would shiver and say, "It is not funny, Jack, that man almost killed you."
But Grandpa would say, "I'm still here ain't I?" Then he'd shake his belly and say "I paid a lot of money to get a belly this big."
Or the time, he called out his truck window, "Who gave you two 'idiots' a license to drive?" Those "idiots" chased him for miles in their powerful red sports car.
In fact, he did many things that became part and parcel of our oral family heritage. Like the time he told my uncle not to eat that trail mix on my coffee table because it tasted "terrible." Grandma was across the room, but she heard him say it.
"Jack," she shrieked, "that is not trail mix, it's potpourri, stop eating it!"
We found out that day that Grandpa did have the "cast iron stomach" he often talked about; he never got sick from eating my potpourri.
For all his tough strength and courage, he could be ever so gentle. He could get any baby, any time to stop crying.
Then there was the time I broke my silence and told the family about how my husband had been treating me. As I cried, Grandpa stroked my hair while he kept saying, "My darling, my darling, I never wanted you to hurt so."
He vowed to shoot that "jerk" who hurt his granddaughter and great grandkids. So Grandma had my uncle hide Grandpa's old hunting rifles, since she knew he might do just that.
When Grandma had cancer, he slept by her bed in a chair every night for almost a year so he could give her medicine and get her anything else she might need.
Sometimes he'd say grace like this: "Over the teeth, past the gums, look out stomach, here it comes."
The grandkids wished all the adults prayed like that. But he could say a serious prayer too, and when he prayed that way, the whole room would hush, it was so beautiful. Everyone knew he was talking to his God, his friend, and his Savior.
When he was serious, he'd talk to us about God, about the important things in life and about how the world worked. We'd squirm and wiggle and roll our eyes, hoping he'd finish soon so we could go have some fun.
Those words of wisdom come back to me now. Sometimes, I wish I'd listened more.
I could fill more pages with stories about Grandpa. When Grandpa enveloped you in one of his bear hugs, all seemed right with the world, you could feel his love pouring out all over you.
He's been gone more than ten years now, and just about every day I miss him. I miss him because, in all my years, I have never met anyone quite the same as my Grandpa Jack.