My grandfather died this morning. There were things that we diverged on–the churches we attended, the politicians we voted for, the sports teams we cheered. There were so many more things that we shared–faith, a love of knowledge and reasoning, joy in time spent together, family dinners, corn hole games, basketball, gardening, cooking. When a man at his church gave him cases of sorghum, he passed them to me because he knew I’d actually cook with it. When his neighbor had a bumper crop of plums, he brought me a bag full at my brother’s wedding. I brought him back some plum cinnamon jam.
I have early memories of driving to Oklahoma to visit him and Memaw on Thanksgiving. That’s always been our holiday. The one that he and Memaw would wake up in the middle of the night to change out the ham for the turkey in the oven. They moved to Tennessee when I was still in grade school and went from a day away to an hour up the road. I have the path to their house memorized. I know where to stand on their steps for the annual family portrait. I know that dessert will always get eaten while the kids are outside playing.
Gramps was a Pentecostal pastor, and I’ve always been Catholic. I remember him asking me one time what I was doing in a picture. It was May Crowning, and I was the one crowning Mary. Looking back, I’m sure it looked like his granddaughter was not only worshiping Mary, but worshiping a statue. What I remember from that conversation is that he asked me questions and respectfully listened to my 14-year-old explanations about Catholicism. There was no judgment, only a desire to know me better.
We got to have one last conversation this Thanksgiving, which we celebrated together even if the food was made by others and we skipped the picture on the stairs. He used the opportunity to tell me that all grandparents are proud of their grandkids, but that he’d be proud of me and brag on me even if I wasn’t his. He told me that he was so happy that I took my mind and have applied it to my career. He told me that he bragged about my academic achievements to his friends. Gramps didn’t have many degrees, but he had a brilliant mind. He loved me, and I miss him.