October 19, 1988 began like any other day. I was a Freshman in college, and I had a full day of classes. The morning went as usual, lunch was spent with friends, and then I moved on to my 1:00pm American Lit class. During the class, I was suddenly overcome with the most intense feeling of grief. It was all I could do not to cry, a feeling which many students studying Ahab’s quest for the mighty white whale may have felt, but one which I couldn’t logically explain at the time. For the rest of class, I had a hard time concentrating. All of my thoughts were consumed by the knowledge that my grandfather was starting chemo that day and the belief that something had gone terribly wrong. After class, I reported to my job at the campus library and began shelving books. Not too long after arriving at work, I looked up to see my roommate and one of my best friends from high school heading toward me, their expressions giving away their mission.
“Your Dad called,” was all I needed to hear.
“I know,” I told my roommate. “I knew the moment it happened. My grandfather is gone.” I remember collapsing in her arms but remember little else about the following few days. One thing that I will never forget is hearing the number 400 over and over again. That’s how many people joined in the procession that took us from the funeral home to the church. Police were at every intersection. Traffic lights flashed rather than turned, and cars pulled off the road to pay their respects to a man who was known and loved far and wide by every person he ever met.
When my grandfather called a girl, a young lady, or a woman, “sweetheart,” there was no hidden meaning, no sexual undertone, nothing sexist or bigoted. There was only admiration and respect. And the females loved him because he made them all feel special. It wasn’t a lewd thing. It was an appreciation for them and for what they represented–wives, mothers, waitresses, nurses, teachers, business women. He opened doors and tipped his hat. He was a true gentleman, and everyone who knew him respected him for that.
It has long been rumored that our family has Indian blood in it, and one look at Granddad during the summer months always convinced me of the rumor’s truth. His rich copper-colored skin soaked up the sun, and his incredibly thick, white hair, once jet black, made his baseball cap sit high upon his head. I’m not sure I ever saw him happier than when he was outside working his fields or steering his boat. Except when he was with his family. There was nothing more important to my grandfather than his family. The love he poured onto all of us was apparent to all. He was a provider, a loving husband, father, and grandfather. He was a loyal friend, someone who never turned his back on anyone no matter their color, religion, or status in life. He was a man of high moral character and integrity who went to church, volunteered in his parish and community, and counted his friends by the hundreds.
He was also a hard worker. Granddad was a civilian employee at Patuxent River Naval Base, but he was also a farmer and a boatbuilder. When he retired from the base, he added waterman to his list of occupations. He planted gardens, both for food and for beauty. He built boats, furniture, houses, and anything else that struck his fancy, and he built them to last (I still own and use furniture that he built with his own hands). At some point in his life, he took up photography and meticulously put together album after album of family memories. In his sixties, he took up winemaking. At seventy, he not only quit smoking but quit growing tobacco. His decision to stop smoking and stop promoting the habit gave him a new lease on life, but it was a short lease. Unbeknownst to him, cancer had already made its home in his lungs.
I’ve taken you on this trip down memory lane not only because Granddad is on my mind today but because he is what we are missing in this world. We should all be striving every day to be like Buck Morgan and to raise our children to be like him–to respect everyone; to treat everyone as if they matter; to love our friends, family, and God with all our hearts, and to show that love at all times; to open doors and tip hats; to work hard without asking for more; to live within our means; to go to church and understand that it’s the least we can do as children of God; to smile at everyone; to make each moment count; and to never be afraid to try new things, make new friends, achieve a new goal, or search for a higher purpose.
Once the dust clears from this awful election, I pray that we can return to civility. I pray that we all recognize what we’ve become and vow to stop this plague from spreading. Let’s all try to live lives of charity, love, respect, honor, and goodness. Let us all, within our own families, plant gardens, harvest fields, build lasting memories, and raise a generation that appreciates what it has, works hard to have a better life, and understands the things that matter. I believe we owe it to ourselves, our children, and our past generations. I also believe that it’s never late to try. My grandfather would agree.
Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her book, Picture Me, is the recipient of an Illumination Award, placing it among the top three eBooks of 2015. Her latest book, Whispering Vines, is now available for purchase.
You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com.