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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Grandparent(s) (04/03/08)

TITLE: Imperfect Papa
By Kristen Hester


I sat alone in the empty sanctuary and soaked in the silence. The beautiful, fragrant flowers circling the room contrasted drastically with my sorrow. A tear ran down my cheek, but I quickly wiped it away. This wasnt the time to cry. There were too many people in the fellowship hall next door that I needed to go visit. Id snuck away for a moment to think and reconcile my mixed feelings about the man, my grandfather, who wed just buried.

My husband peeked in the room. "You okay?"

"I just want a moment."

He nodded as he shifted our two-year-old daughter to his other side. I could almost hear my grandfathers words as my daughter tugged at the elastic headband bow she wore around her head. "Get that garter off that babys head," hed growl. "Youre gonna give her brain damage." I smiled at the memory.

My husband looked at me for a moment longer, then left. Alone again, I wondered why I suddenly had such an overwhelming desire to evaluate his life. Was it okay to mourn and miss this imperfect man? Memories flashed through my mind like a movie.

Like it was yesterday, I remembered the weekend my grandparents surprised my sister and me with brand new matching cars. My grandfather had only a high school education but could afford such lavish gifts because of old-fashioned hard work. The thriving steel company hed founded would ensure college educations and an inheritance for his descendants for generations to come. I admired his success and accomplishments.

I reflected on the sickening moment when I discovered an unpleasant truth about my grandfather. I was serving as a youth leader to a racially mixed group. I decided to bring the teens to our family land for a weekend retreat. The one-hundred acre property was beautiful, containing stocked ponds for fishing, dense woods for exploring and grassy meadows for playing. There was also a fully equipped, unoccupied house. The "ranch" had been my grandfathers lifelong dream. He loved taking his border collie there to fish and secretly smoke the cigarettes hed supposedly given up. A few days before the retreat I asked my dad if Papa knew we were coming.

"Ummm, sort of," he responded with a suspicious tone.

"It won't bother him that all the kids aren't white, will it?" Id asked on a whim.

My father paused. "Ill keep him away this weekend so he wont know."

I felt like I had just been kicked in the stomach. "Youre kidding, right?"

"No," he said quietly.

After that, I looked at my grandfather differently. Others tried to justify his racism, claiming he was from a different generation. But to me, racism was racism. I felt sorrow and shame at his prejudice.

I shifted on the hard pew as I recalled the only time Id heard my grandfather talk about his military service during World War II. Id listened intently as he described how his plane was shot down over Germany.

"Wed been taught to count to ten before opening our parachutes. I counted one-ten and pulled." Hed chuckled at his joke. "I was a tail gunner, so I was the seventh man out. The guy behind me didnt make it." I knew the injuries from that day still bothered him. Id sat spell bound for an hour as he described life as a POW. My heart swelled with pride at my grandfather, hero and defender of freedom.

The abundant floral tributes around the room were as varied as my conflicting feelings about the man they honored. How would I remember him? With pride or shame? As a war hero or racist? I walked to the adjoining room where my extended family was eating and visiting. As I entered, I noticed an elderly black man standing bashfully at the back door.

"Can I help you?" I asked.

"I just wanted to express my sympathies to Mr. Ks family."

"Thank you. Im his granddaughter. Did you know my grandfather?"

"Yesm. I picked up his trash. He helped me and my family out at times."

"What do you mean?" I asked, surprised.

"We had some hard times. Mr. K always seemed to know. Hed give me extra money, even paid a big hospital bill once, but made me promise never to tell. I reckon since hes gone, its okay."

"Yes, its okay," I said as my eyes filled with tears.

"He was a fine man."

"Yes," I said with pride. "He was a fine man."

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This article has been read 776 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Pam Carlson-Hetland04/10/08
A touching and well-written tribute. The scene is set beautifully in the beginning pulling the reader into the writer's frame of mind. The flow is wonderful, words well chosen, glimpses of both writer and 'grandfather' reveal the godliness, as well as the humanity, of each. Absolutely excellent. It brought tears to my eyes.
Sharlyn Guthrie04/10/08
So real...the pride, the flaws, the emotions. Excellent portrayal.
Joanne Sher 04/11/08
Fabulous characterization - you made him so real. Wonderful.
LauraLee Shaw04/12/08
This is so realistic, yet not many could make it as interesting as you have. Your descriptions and expressions of thoughts and feelings were flawless. "Imperfect Papa" was a perfect piece.
Betty Castleberry04/12/08
You wrote a lot of truth in not so many words. This was sweet, sad, and redeeming, all in one piece. Well done.
Sheri Gordon04/12/08
You have excellent story telling skills. I was engaged from the beginning, and had a tear in my eye at the end. Wonderful job.
Laury Hubrich 04/12/08
Loved this piece. Wonderful writing, as always.
Peter Stone04/13/08
Absolutely loved the ending. There we go, thinking that we know someone and judge them accordingly, but then at the last moment, learn some precious secret that reveals their actual heart.
Lyn Churchyard04/13/08
Wonderful, wonderful story Kristen. So many different emotions winding through this. You certainly know how to weave a story. Well done!
Anne Linington04/13/08
I too love this article; we can certainly grieve for people who are less than perfect- like us all; I am a bit bemused because I thought these entries were anonymous, yet judging by comments others know who has written the article??
Karen Wilber04/13/08
Just a taste of a complex character here; I like that there's an open-ended feel to this as the granddaughter reflects on who her grandfather was.
Dee Yoder 04/13/08
We never fully know the people in our lives; they're always capable of surprising us with their deeds or words. Well-written and touching entry!
Jan Ackerson 04/14/08
Kristen, that little bit of redemption at the end made this wonderful story even more wonderful-er. I love the fact that the grandfather was flawed, as we all are, and the granddaughter's anguish over how to mourn him.

One little nitpick, from the first paragraph: instead of telling us there was a contrast between the flowers and the sorrow, describe the flowers and the sorrow and let your readers see the contrast.

I love little moody pieces like this one--it definitely stands out in my mind for this week.

Sara Harricharan 04/16/08
Hmmm, there's plenty to think about in this piece. The ending though-I'm so happy for it. I'm glad that it 'turned out all right'. I could feel and see everything as it played out here. Great job. ^_^
Tim Pickl04/16/08
I liked how you resolved the inner conflict you felt at the end--this story reads like a chapter from a book--maybe a biography about your grandpa. Racist vs. Hero. Sound like a good subtitle!
Joshua Janoski04/16/08
Wow. The ending surprised me. I'm so glad that God allowed that man to come to the funeral, because that helped you be able to come to terms with who your grandfather truly was.

It sounds to me like he was a wonderful man that was maybe just misunderstood. Or maybe he had a change of heart later in life. Either way, it sounds like many people were blessed because of him.

I loved this story. Thank you for sharing it.
Joanney Uthe04/16/08
You drew me in right away. Great job showing the emotional conflict to build the conflict within the story.
Chely Roach04/17/08
I absolutely, positively LOVED this! My favorite line: "Get that garter off that babys head," hed growl. "Youre gonna give her brain damage." I smiled at the memory.
What a great character...established in so few words. Awesome.
Sharon Henderson04/17/08
Sounds much like my grandpa! Thanks for bringing back good memories of a hard working man with 'different' views on life.
Joanne Sher 04/18/08
Congratulations, Kristen, on placing 26th overall with this piece. Great work!