My Grandpa Ray passed away 16 years ago this month. Every October, whether I’m aware of the date or not, for one day the memories pile up.
The phone call came at 6 a.m. on a Sunday. Early morning calls on a farm are never good because usually the outcome is chasing cattle or pigs in pajamas.
My dad answered, followed by hushed whispers. I crept downstairs and learned that something was wrong with Grandpa. My parents were heading to the hospital and would call later.
After church my brother and I went to my grandparent’s farm. He fed the cattle while I cleaned the kitchen. Grandma had been in the process of baking. Her friends from nursing school were due for their annual visit that afternoon. I loved sitting on the hearth and listening to their stories of nursing school and life during the years of World War II. We’d need to call them before they got on the road.
Have I mentioned this was one of those perfect fall harvest days? Warm with just a hint of breeze. The color on the trees was at its height. The sky was the bluest of blues. The hum of combines and tractors rose and fell as they crossed neighbor’s fields.
Later in the afternoon I decided to take a walk and my feet took me the two miles back to my grandparent’s place. It was a walk I had made hundreds of times. Grandma and Grandpa would be waiting at the other end with cookies and a glass of Diet Pepsi. We’d sit in the shade of a huge birch tree and talk about school, FFA, farming and dancing. Grandma and Grandpa loved to dance.
I stopped at the buckeye tree that grew at the base of Baylor’s hill and searched for a flawless specimen. Grandpa always had a buckeye. He said they brought good luck.
I don’t remember crying after learning the news because this was the perfect fall day. I mean the perfect day, and this was harvest for crying out loud! How inappropriate?! Grandpa could not be gone. The screen door would slam. He’d drop his straw hat and boots on the chair, scrub up and enter with a hardy ‘how ya doin’.
Who would sort hogs and doctor cattle, do chores and drive the tractors, discuss the books and the markets? Who would dance with Grandma to Johnny Kaye and his Orchestra, and play Uno and Rummy with us grandkids? Who would sit at the head of the table and say grace, or attend every volleyball, football and basketball game? Who would do these things, if not Grandpa??!!
I still miss seeing that blue S-10 coast in the drive. We didn’t know if Grandpa was coming to sucker us in to walk beans or bale hay, or if he had another “varmint” caught in his live trap. These days, I see Grandpa in my dad, in the way he shuffles across the farm yard and interacts with his grandkids. Rough and tumble, yet gentle enough to sooth a skinned knee.
God got a pretty special angel that day, but selfishly I still miss Grandpa Ray.