20 September 2013

When I Need You, I Just Close My Eyes

Dear Grandpa,

We're coming up on the sixth year without you here. I have to admit, I find myself missing you at the oddest of times. When a moment of silence intrudes upon my day, I think of the times I didn't say enough to you. Years could roll past before I'd even consider visiting. Like every young person, I was busy. So very busy doing nothing and getting nowhere. While you weren't always in my sight, you were always in my heart. You still are. Nowadays, you are almost always on my mind.

Two peas in a pod; that was us. No one was more hard-headed and stubborn than you, until there was me. You seemed to take conversations as a challenge to mentally wrestle me into a defeat, but I would never give up. No matter the subject, if you took the pro, I was the con. If you derided something for being useless, I had to extol it's intrinsic worth. If you changed your mind, so did I. And I always had to use big words. Not because I thought you were stupid. No, you were never stupid. But I had to substitute vocabulary for the size and age (wisdom?) you brought to the table. I didn't think about how it may have hurt you to have a grade-schooler outstrip you in debate. And to an outside party, I'm sure they thought I was tearing you down. But you and I knew. I could see it in your face. You enjoyed the fight. You were proud of me. And I was proud of you.

I still am very proud of my grandpa. I speak about you often. I tell stories about my childhood, always with a prejudice to stories about you and me. I doubt anyone has more shaped my outlook on life than you. And who better? Born in 1927, the first child of an unmarried mother, you began life in difficult times. You were the grandchild of a farming family, so hard work would not be a stranger to you. Which would be good practice; you were barely a man when war found you. Or did you find it? You entered the U.S. Army and became a Ranger. Dad tells me you were a driver for General Patton and that you stayed in France during the war. He also says you were in Germany for reconstruction. I've filed a request for your military records.... I wonder what I'll learn or confirm? I have pictures of you from the war. Dad found an envelope with my name on it when he was clearing your house. Inside were some unmarked photos of half toppled buildings. And one of you. Where were you that day? Who were the young men in the photos with you? What story did you want to tell when you took these? How I wish you were here to tell me now.

You know I've always loved history. And getting me to shut up was never easy. Now I never shut up about family history. And you've been one of my favorite subjects. Not that you've been easy to find, mind you! I've located your birth certificate.... well, a transcript. I have to get Kentucky to send me a copy. Not that it will list your father's name. Your mother listed you under her maiden name, leaving me a mystery to solve. You were living with your maternal grandfather during the 1930 census. He told the enumerator your last name was Berrio. But we both know what a dead end that is, don't we? Auntie tells me that you told her about confronting a man named Berrio, only to find out he wasn't your father. He gave you another man, Estes, but that man denied you too. I wonder if that hurt you, hardened you. I've heard that when you joined the army, you had to request a delayed birth certificate, and that you chose to stick with your stepfather's name, Gibson, when you had the chance to change it. You were used to the name? Or did you love your stepfather? Dad tells me he remembers his grandfather as being very unkind and cold to you and your children. Dad says that your stepfather didn't consider you family. But is that the truth or is dad remembering his own coldness? You wouldn't believe the number of conversations I have with him about family. In one breath he's "blood doesn't define a family" and in the next it's "I don't care about that side, they aren't really blood related". But you know dad, he's right today and he's right tomorrow. He got that from you. And so did I.

I'd love to be more right about you. If I had just one more day, I'd ........... who am I kidding? I'd like to say I'd ask you all sorts of questions and pull out photos and have you identify everyone. I'd like to say I'd ask you point blank about your military career and your marriage. I pretend I'd have the guts to ask you about losing your first daughter, Evelyn, when she was only 9 hours old. I imagine the brickwalls of my family history tumble. But we both know what our one day would be. You'd make your famous cookies; I'd eat until I was sick. I'd remark on some little factoid I had learned, you'd call me Miss YellowPages. Naturally, and almost instinctively, I'd correct you. YellowPages are for phone numbers. I'm an Encyclopedia............ and we're off to the races. Then dad would have to "separate the kids", although we wouldn't understand what all the fuss was about.

After all, we're just talkin'


  1. This was so poignant.
    Thank you.