Maybe it was the release of Johnny Cash’s last CD, seven years after his death, but something got me thinking about the people who have died that I would really like to spend some time with. I find it strange that I can only think of a few. That might be reflective of where I am in my life right now. While I love people, I don’t have many heroes, but there are two people from my life who died way too soon.
My mother’s dad was a 6 foot tall, straight standing German. He was the first generation born in the U.S. and served as an interpreter for the U.S. Army in WWI. He once met General John J.“Black Jack” Pershing, the commander of U.S. forces in the war. Unfortunately, he was gassed in battle and his subsequent nightmares and sleep-walking were attributed to that.
He worked as a auto mechanic most of his life and later as a handyman. His occupation allowed me to tag along as he maintained old, rural cemeteries, repaired roofs, and painted houses. I loved it.
I spent a lot of my summer living with my Grandparents in their old two story home in a tiny rural town in Northwest Missouri. I had a gang of young friends that I hung out with. We rode our bikes all around, down to the river, up to the ball park, or to the gas station for a bottle of pop. There was always a bunch of old men sitting on pews discarded by the local church which lined up along the outer wall of a neighboring business. I loved the hardware store there where I would look at fireworks, fishing gear, and knives.
My brother and I were always having make believe wars in the yard and Grandpa’s yard had lots of walls, bushes and out buildings that made good forts. We were always looking for something new to blow up with firecrackers, too. Occasionally, we did constructive things, like help with the gardening and the yard work. I loved picking strawberries, though a lot of them did not make it to the house.
My grandpa and I would fish together and while fishing or while sitting in the evening shade in old metal lawn chairs, we would have conversations about things like WWI, the news, happenings in the little town, anything and everything. He always had time for me!
He was a little short guy who always sported a mischievous grin and carried a few hundred dollar bills in his wallet. He was quiet, but unafraid to speak his mind when he decided it was necessary to do so, and he had some real homespun wisdom. He would preface profoundly helpful statement with the words, “I might me wrong, but….” He was always spot on.
He worked for Ford as a service manager for decades and was responsible for keeping the cars of my youth running. One day in his 60’s, his boss asked him to pad the service invoices with an extraneous charge as an on-going practice. He refused to do so and resigned on the spot. Immediately other dealerships were courting him and a huge portion of his mechanics and customers followed him to his new employer, even though, it was a GM dealership.
By the way, his name was Norval, which is pretty unique. We were always playing around with his name, since it sounded like “normal”.
He pretty much underwrote our early married years by taking us everywhere and always paying for everything as well as, loaning and giving us money when we needed it.
We had many conversations about all manner of things, often while dinner was being prepared, since Patty and her mom were good at that and we were notoriously ungifted cooks.
These two important men in my life had something in common, they treated me with more respect than I had earned or was due, they had time for conversation, they would do anything that would truly help me, and we enjoyed hanging out together.
They (and Johnny Cash) are my heroes and if I had the opportunity today to spend some time with them, I would have nothing in particular to ask or to say, we would just hang out together.
Do you have any tributes to offer?
This post was originally published March 4, 2010.