Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I'm Back.

Well when I signed off six weeks ago, I never thought I would be back so soon. The reason for my sudden return is bittersweet. As I mentioned in my not-so-final post, I had some family issues going on and I wanted to focus on spending time with the loved one in question.

It is with deep regret that I report the passing of my grandfather. He went Home on Sunday morning, which ironically, was his 75th birthday. Yep, if I didn't already know it, I can definitely say that cancer really, really sucks. As do severe heart conditions and diabetes.

Ah the petulant two year old that was me!
My grandfather meant the world to me. He was so much more than just that--he was in many ways my father, but also a cheerleader, sounding board, and mentor. I was his "best girl" according to my mom--the first grandchild in the family and only granddaughter.

I spent many a day at his house. He read to me as a child and took me to the library. I remember apologizing once for having overdue fines and he simply said, "You keep reading and I'll keep paying them."
He was a voracious reader himself. He grew up in the North Georgia mountains, the son of a sharecropper. He would read under his covers with a flashlight, so that he wouldn't get in trouble for not sleeping. Apparently he didn't fool anyone. One night, the community's doctor drove by the house and saw the faint light  from my grandpa's bedroom. When next he saw my great-grandfather he asked, "Was there someone ailing at your house? I saw a light on." My great-grandpa, replied, "No--that's just John reading."

My grandfather was also the first person in his family to go to college. He was dedicated, that's for sure. He attended Berry College in Rome, Georgia initially and paid his tuition by working on the college's farm. He ended up graduating from Appalachian State University in North Carolina and went on to be a shop teacher and school administrator for over thirty years. His impact was felt well beyond just me and his family. He was known as "Big John" amongst the students (he was 6'5 and quite imposing). Despite his size, he never used his paddle (although it was quite scary looking on its nail in the wall). After he retired (twice), he was never forgotten. He was the type of guy that you couldn't take anywhere--he was bound to run into someone he knew or taught.

But his greatest impact was on his family. He cared for me on sick days, bussed me around before I was able to drive, played basketball with me in the driveway when I was on the middle school team, and was generally the best grandpa/dad ever. I danced my father/daughter dance with him at my wedding--to "Sweet Caroline", of course, since he sang it to me as a child. I only found out after the fact that he despised dancing and had refused to even when he and my grandmother were young. He never said a word because that was the type of person he was. I know was lucky to have such a relationship with him--most of my friends had older grandparents. One of the more memorable comments came in college when one of my friends saw a picture of him and said, "Wow! Your grandpa is hot!"

In more recent years, he was a driving force behind my writing. He was constantly cheering me on, thrilled for every request I received, and just generally proud of me. He always believed in me, even when other family and friends thought I was just scribbling away my time. When my laptop died and I was left without one for almost a year, he organized the family so they could get me a new one. "You have to be able to write," he said and was so proud to have helped me get back on track. I wish more than anything that I could have been published before he died, but there's not much I can do about that now.

But I can come here and talk about what a positive influence he was over me. He deserves a post a dedicated in his honor, that's for sure. He was so humble and so good. The definition of a true gentleman. So many times over the last two days, I have wished that this was all a dream--that I'll wake up and he'll still be here.

I hope that posting this will be a small step towards exercising my grief which once everything is said and done, I'll have to deal with fully. Right now, I've got it in a box labeled "Category 5 Nuclear Meltdown"!

On the positive side, I will make sure I get published now. I was quite adrift before this happened, but I think that once I have sorted through all of my emotions, I will have new focus. If getting publishing means writing ten, twenty, or thirty novels over the next fifty years of my life, I will do it. My grandpa would expect nothing less. He might not be with me here and but he's in Heaven (which I firmly believe in), and I know that he'll be cheering the day that the first copies show up on the shelves. And of course, that book will be dedicated to him.