I’ve started writing this post several times over the past few days. Saturday I just stared at my computer screen for an hour, unable to convince my fingers to find a way to translate what was in my heart. Friday I wrote this post in my head but couldn’t get the composure to get it down on paper.
So I start and stop it because it’s not something that I want to write but it’s something that I need to write.
Why? Because I want you to understand that a truly wonderful person, my hero, has left this world.
My grandfather, Bobby, passed away on Friday. It was a call that I was expecting but my heart wasn’t ready for it.
Two weeks ago I stepped into the hospital that I was born at and traveled up, past the nursery, and into a regular room to see my grandfather. I knew then that this place where we most likely first laid eyes on each other would also probably be the place that we said goodbye.
To me, my grandfather was anything but just a normal grandparent. There was something more that is hard, if not impossible to describe.
Growing up I was surrounded by talented, beautiful people. My sister was drop dead gorgeous and the boys I had crushes on used to lament to me about how my sister wouldn’t go out with them. My brother was one of those people who could befriend anyone and was the class clown whom everyone loved. My cousins were all extremely accomplished at school and seemed from the outside to have the picture perfect lives. They had it together.
Then there was me. Mouse brown hair with braces and pink glasses that walked around on clumsy limbs, hiding from people because of my fear that they might talk to me. Add the speech impediment that the cruel kids at school would make fun of until high school and I just saw myself as nothing special, if not boring and plain.
But my grandfather saw me for who I really was and would become. He knew the potential I held inside and believed in me even more than I could believe in myself at that time.
One day when I really felt like the black sheep of the family, a little more than usual, I decided that I must be adopted. I was so awkward and weird that adoption was the only reasonable explanation as to how I came to be part of that family. Somehow my grandfather got wind of my theory and I arrived home from school to find that he had driven three hours to come talk to me about it.
We walked up the street that day while he told me the story of his life. He told me about his parents that were farmers in Georgia. They didn’t have much at all growing up but the farm protected them during the Great Depression. His brothers used to tie him up and play cruel jokes on him, they would gang up on him and tease him. But he didn’t let that stop him. He grew up and joined the army. After bootcamp he went back home to Georgia and married my grandmother in a simple wedding. He went on to serve in the military through wars and overseas deployments. The military moved my grandparents all over the country and he slowly but surely worked his way up and learned everything that he could. Eventually he retired from the military and went to work at a company that designed aircraft used by the Air Force. Many of those planes are still used today that he helped work on.
He did it all without finishing high school or going to college but dedicated himself to being a success, no matter what hand he was dealt.
As we started walking back towards the house he told me that he knew for a fact that I was not adopted because he saw the same light in me that he saw in himself. He told me about the similarities between him and I and slowly but surely I started to feel like I finally belonged.
Finally he told me that I had been given his name and that it was a name of power and strength and he needed me to carry that on for him. He challenged me to continue his legacy.
Even though that day was 25 years ago, I still remember it like crystal. I can still see the fine sand on the street, covering the gray and black gravel, from where they had been drilling a new oil pump on the side of the road there in East Texas. I can hear his voice as he told me that he knew that I was his family because of who I was, a person that I didn’t even know yet, but he knew because he saw it inside of me.
Even after that day, he didn’t stop there. He continually encouraged me to stand out from the pack and run after the things in life that truly mattered. He knew that a beauty queen’s looks were fleeting but the ability to read a book and learn from it would take you anywhere you wanted to go. He would tell me about the first computer he ever worked on and how it not only took up an entire room but was so hot that as soon as you entered the room you would start sweating through your wool coat and dress shirt. Rather than trying to be a girly girl to please the world, I devoted myself to learning because of where it had taken him.
He would take me to the Air Force base with my grandmother to shop tax free but while we were there he would point out the different airplanes and helicopters that we saw. We would talk about how they flew and about the wingspan and weight of the planes. When I had to do an oral report in high school about World War 2 he handed me a book about the Berlin Airlift and told me that he thought it would be an excellent subject. It wasn’t until I was done with the book that he told me that he had been part of it. It was the only time he’s spoken to me about any of his service during war. It taught me how to care for people more than myself and to work hard regardless of the danger involved.
Then there was my wedding day. It wasn’t until I saw the look in his eye when he saw me in my dressed that I realized that somehow along the way, I had become become a beautiful woman. I may not be a model, nor will I ever be, but because of him and others that walked with me along the way I had grown up to be a person that knew what truly mattered was on the inside rather than concentrating on how things looked on the outside.
Slowly I got to introduce my children to him and they began to love him as I love him. One of the things that he told me almost every time I saw him, as my kids did somersaults around the room close to precious glass objects, was to just enjoy my children as much as I can because they will grow up before I know it.
He never stopped teaching me.
On that final day, in the hospital where I became Bobbie in honor of him, I got to tell him about some of the new technology that was coming out and see his eyes light up when I told him about the bomber I had seen flying around the Air Force Reserves base that morning.
I promised him that I would go see my grandmother, his bride of 66 years, before I left town for the 5 hour drive home and that I would call her more often to talk with her. He wanted her to be taken care of more than anything.
And then I promised that I would be back as soon as I could to see him again before I walked out of the room. But in my heart I knew that in the place where we first met, we would say goodbye.
So Friday when the call came that he was gone, one week before my next schedule trip to see him, my heart broke.
But he’s only gone from this earth. He left me with his legacy and his name to carry for the rest of my life. He passed it to me like a torch, after years of training me to run the race.
I’ll carry him in my heart and run further and harder than the world thinks I can until it’s time to once again pass the torch.
And one day when I get the phone call where my daughter tells me that one of her kids do not feel like they belong, I’ll know the path to show them the way because he blazed that trail for me.
His legacy will continue and I am honored that he challenged me to do so.
I will be taking off the rest of this week from this blog simply to spend time with my family. Maybe I’ll even work on finishing that book that I promised him 20 years ago that I would write.