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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Grandpa Charlie

He was my fathers dad and he was old, ancient to me as a child.  He never said a lot to anyone but somehow you just knew that he was a very kind person.  They say that the first time I saw him I crawled up on his lap and started eating out of his plate.  There is an old rhyme," I eat my peas with honey; I've done it all my life.  It makes the peas taste funny but it keeps them on my knife."  Grandpa ate his peas with his knife, without honey, and I marvel to this day when I think about it.  I would sit on his lap and he would take his kitchen, case knife, and scoop up his food with it and carry it to our mouths without dropping a morsel.  He would use his fork but only to guide his food on to the knife.  I guess he learned to do it from his father who came from Germany and stayed in the US when his family went back to Germany at the start of the Civil War.  I have eaten at the same table with Europeans in my later years and they always remind me of grandpa because they use knifes move their food around and to push it onto their forks where we Americans only use knives to cut our food.  I have never seen anyone as skilled as Grandpa Charlie however. 

Grandpa had a small wooden stand built out by the highway in front of his house where he would sell the watermelons he grew in his “watermelon patch.  I was at least twelve years old before I figured out that he knew my cousins and I stole his melons to eat on hot summer days.  He never said a word about it even though he would get really angry when he caught strangers in his patch. 

During his last few years he was nearly blind and he had a big old yellow dog named Butch.  Butch was just a mongrel but he was round as a thirty-gallon barrel, with gray hair.  He was totally devoted to Grandpa.  Butch waited by the back door where Grandpa always came out of the house then followed him every step he made as he walked around the home place. Grandma said Butch was fourteen years old.  He was almost as blind as Grandpa was, you could tell because he always ran into things.  Every day Grandpa and Butch would wander around the farm, about 200 acres of row crop with two home places, one with a barn.  He carried a cane but didn’t use it as a blind person would and he didn’t really need it to walk, he just carried it.  I would follow them around as they walked from place to place on the farm.

Grandpa and I would talk as we walked and sometimes he would ask questions about the state of some particular object.  This went on several hours every day that weather allowed and I knew they could not see like I could so it made me wonder what they were looking at. I often thought that maybe I just couldn’t see what Grandpa Charlie was seeing.  I think sometimes that I began to learn to see things in a different way by watching my namesake at his musings. 

I remember his funeral.  It was very traumatic for me because of how close we had become and how much I loved him. It was my first experience with death first hand and I didn't do to well with the experience. At first they brought him home to lie in state.  He was in his casked in the living room and the house was filled with friends and relatives. We sat there all day and all night with him laying there. The next morning they came and took him to the funeral home for the days services.  As he was laying in state in the local funeral home his sister, an ancient woman, to me at least, came to the coffin and raised the veil.  She then proceeded to reach in and kiss my Grandpa.  I freaked and ran outside.  My mother had to force me to go inside again. To this day I have this thing about touching the remains of a friend or loved one when I have to say goodbye to them at a funeral home.  One little event in your memory can affect your perspective and behavior forever, at least it has from my own perspective.

It is over sixty years later now but I can still picture him eating with his knife, waddling around the farm with that old dog and laying in the casket.  What I really remember is one of the most genuine kind, loving people I have encountered in my life.  How many people do you know who would have that much patience with such a young impulsive, inquisitive boy?  I am grateful to be named Charles after my Grandpa even though I have never used that part of my name.  It is my own memory trigger of a wonderful man and our good times together.

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