My grandfather (dad’s father) was one of the greatest humans I have ever known. He grew up in a poor family and wasn’t well educated. He worked in one of the local hosiery mills there in Elizabeth City his whole life. He never had a driver’s license, so he always walked everywhere he went. He was a Sunday school teacher at Blackwell Memorial Baptist Church. My dad use to tell me about how he would get all of my dad’s brothers and sisters (there was a great big old passel of them!) up on Sundays and walk them all to church together.
I never saw him leave the house without a hat on either. I guess it was a generational thing, but even when he was going out to cut the grass he had on a fedora. I never see one of those hats, ride past an old mill, or smell a cigar that I don’t think of him.
When I got a little bit older, maybe 13 or so, I use to go over to his house every Wednesday night with my dad while my mom went to choir practice and play cards. Rummy was his game of choice. He loved playing this game, especially when he got the chance to beat me… which was quite often. As time went on he and I became very close and I would walk down town with him to help him cut the grass at the court house… he was also the grounds keeper for them and the public library as well. This was back when there was a beautiful lawn next to the courthouse with a bandstand where pep rallies were held and the library was in the old Robinson House across the street. It seemed like everyone in town knew him and it made me think he was someone so very important.
Anyway, after working up a big sweat cutting grass he would always take me over to Hill’s, a little store that had a counter where you could get drinks and sandwiches and other really cool stuff. We would get a drink and sit in one of the booths and just talk about anything. I can’t even explain how wonderful an experience that was for me. Could life get any better? There I was, working up a big sweat, accomplishing a satisfying job and hanging out with someone I admired so much… how could life possibly be any better than that? I have such fond memories of those days.
I remember the day we had to take him to the hospital because his back was hurting him so badly he could hardly stand. I was really worried about him. In any case, I went with my dad to take him to the hospital and was there when they finally got him checked into a room. As we were getting ready to leave, he called me over and asked me to do something for him… He asked me if I would go stay with my grandmother and look after her… which I did. I basically moved out of the house and moved in with my grandmother to take care of her. I stayed there for about 9 months until my grandfather passed away. That was a difficult time in my life… I was in my early to mid teen years so I was dealing with all the things that teenage boys do; girls and friends and cliches and parents that don’t understand me… plus I was trying my best to take care of my grandmother and then to lose one of my mentors and friends… a man I held so dear to my heart. I can’t count the number of times I wanted to go back down to Hill’s and sit in a booth and talk to him about things.
My grandfather taught me so much. One of the things that has always stuck with me is that we never really die. With each person we come in contact with, that we care about, we pass along a little bit of ourselves… that person will never be the same having met us… nor will we ever be the same either. So, my grandpa Rufus lives on…in me…. and now, a little of him lives in you too.