On this particular morning we were talking about our grandparents on our mothers' sides, all of whom have already passed on from this world. I brought up the old show Hee Haw that I watched on so many Saturday evenings in my grandparents living room when my wife lit up and told me about the many times that she too had lounged in her pajamas in her grandmother's living room in Topeka, KS, and watched Roy Clark and Buck Owens lead a cheesy cast of comedic characters across the old tube television set with the wood grained sides.
My wife never had the pleasure of knowing her grandfather as a child, but her Grandma Becky more than made up for that. She spent countless days with her grandmother as a girl while her mom was at work, helping out at the Mason Lodge and running errands across town for one event of the other. She sighed gently and smiled as she recalled those many hours listening to Grandma Becky's stories and tall tales.
For years Grandma Becky published a family newsletter entitled The Kansas Korn where she would voice her odd mix of conservative and liberal views for the benefit of her family and closest friends. While the rest of the family would silently groan when they saw the thick envelope in the mailbox, my wife would readily pull open the sticker tab and read every word that Grandma Becky put on those pages. Most of what she wrote would be considered political satire, but that woman had a way with words and she wasn't afraid to share them with the world. When age began to overtake her and she passed on several years ago, more than just a comical newsletter was taken out of circulation. My wife lost one her best, and at times only, childhood friends.
My grandfather on my mother's side was affectionately known as Pop and his wife, my grandmother, we simply called Grandmother. Pop was the only grandfather I ever knew since my dad's dad had passed away before I was even a thought in his mind. He was a WWII veteran who worked for the USPS after the war before opening up a mom-and-pop store with Grandmother called Food Land. Pop was a large man but even if he had been skinny as a pole he would have still been larger than life to me. He was funny and witty in an archaic kind of cool way. Pop never talked about the war - I only learned about the B25 bomber he had flown on in the Pacific theater and saw the amazing pictures of Papua New Guinea after he died in 1990 - but he was quick to share with me stories about everything else in life.
On Sunday mornings at Antioch Baptist Church I would love to slide in next to Pop on that hard wooden pew because he had a way of entertaining me during the sermon so that I wouldn't fidget my way into too much trouble while at the same time maintaining a laser focus on the pastor as he preached. More than anything I loved to hear Pop sing. I can still hear his deep baritone chime in on the secondary chorus of I Surrender All, a staple invitation song at sermon's end.
There were many Sunday's when we would take the short drive down Palmer Lane to Grandmother and Pop's house where Grandmother would have a literal feast prepared. You would have thought she had invited the entire neighborhood! Cube steak and gravy, fried chicken, collard greens, corn, green beans, biscuits, banana pudding, and sweet tea were just a few of the options that we would gorge ourselves with before collapsing on the couch to snooze between innings of an Atlanta Braves baseball game. Breakfast at Grandmother's was even better - country ham with red eye gravy, thick sliced Neese's country sausage, grits, chipped beef with gravy, biscuits, and sweet stewed apples - but that's another story for another time.
Eventually time and age took us to different places in our lives. My wife left Kansas at age 19 and I met her in Clemmons, NC, a year later. We fell in love - and are still falling to this day - got married, had four amazing children, switched careers about half a dozen times, and finally settled on the coast of North Carolina, which I am convinced is a little slice of heaven. We have been unable to figure out how to get our kids to stop growing, so as a result we spend much of our time trying to stay caught up with their lives and activities. My parents and my wife's parents are now our kids' grandparents, and we diligently try to keep them connected from four hours away. FaceTime and texting seems to have taken the place of Saturday evenings in front of the TV watching bluegrass inspired family comedy.
Yet not a day goes by that we aren't grateful for grandparents who in a big way served as larger than life heroes. By the time high school and college rolled around, we didn't think that an evening in their house watching TV with only three channels was such a fun idea, but as an adult there is no doubt that those were some of the best and most meaningful times in our lives. Which is why when we go home to visit, we sometimes hide in the background as our kids lounge on couches with their grandparents watching Discovery Channel shows or root around in their kitchens looking for a snack that they can help bake or help pick weeds around the flower beds out in the yard. With all of the negative options that my children have in this world, I am so grateful for grandparents who can serve as heroes just as our grandparents did for us.