After spending three weeks visiting my parents back home, I smelled him. The six hour drive back to Ohio (the state known only for its superior rest stops along I80), and there was that smell. Distinct and pleasant, as olfactory memories sometimes are. Cigarettes tucked into the breast pocket of a crisply starched shirt, dirt under his fingernails, perfectly worn in work boots with a faint high note of Budweiser. My grandfather. I’m not sure where it came from, and no, I don’t believe his spirit was right there in the car with me or any such nonsense, but there it was, and it took me right back.
“Do your grandfather a favor and grab him a beer from the fridge? Don’t shake it, or you’re outta the will.”
This was a standard request; we joked about getting written out of our inheritance constantly when referring to my grandfather (Not that we cared or would stand to inherit anything until my mom would pass away, but I digress). I suppose there isn’t much room in that sentence to explain what kind of man he was, but he was… something. A piece of work? Totally. Curmudgeonly? Abso-freakin’-loutly. But he worked hard, had the strongest morals of anyone I have ever known and got straight to the point. He was fantastic. And more than little bit of a bit of a pain in the ass. He was the kind of guy that ordered a hamburger – PLAIN, and when the sixteen-year-old girl behind the counter at Wendy’s asked if he wanted cheese on it, would reply with a set of stern eyes, “Would it be plain then?”
Why is it that someone who was so very precise, so black and white, and deliberate is hard to explain? He had a soft spot for his grandchildren. It was the kind that wasn’t worn on his sleeve, but when it made an appearance, it was apparent that he cared for you deeply and in a way that nobody but Grandpa can. The kind that spends forty five minutes hanging the curtain rod he just got you at Target because his granddaughter was not about to have curtains pinned to the ceiling. We idolized him as kids, my brothers and I, despite that he expected a lot from us. Elbows off the table, quizzing us on our multiplication tables over a very well-done hamburger at dinner. He got my brothers to vacuum up birdseed in their backyard; and he got them to enjoy it.
It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties when I would see a crack in the façade. He was grumpy to boot, and was short with my grandmother. We sat firmly on opposite ends of the political spectrum. He was vocal with his views, and I had a mouthful to say about the issues to anybody but him. I am as set in my views as he was, and disagreed with him about everything political, but I never spoke up. I still think if he knew how I really felt; it would have let him down. I don’t feel that way about ANYONE else; why him?
The night before his funeral, my grandmother and I ducked out to the smallest of the porches at their farmhouse. We dodged the pack to have a cigarette. I don’t even smoke. And he passed away from lung cancer, so why my grandmother and I both thought it fitting to light up is anyone’s guess. I totally lost it; busting out my ugly crying face and the snot; the whole nine yards.
“Grandma… He never even knew I voted for Obama.” Cue the choking sob and drippy boogers.
“Oh honey, yes he did.”
And he loved me anyway.