He smelled of cigarettes, coffee and freshly cut wood. Always. Gramps loved his coffee, he loved his cigarettes. Even to the point where he used to joke (but not really joke) that for the “Great American Smoke Out” my Bears Against Drugs Club taught us about in elementary school, he would smoke extra that day. No amount of highly scientific health information he would get from his grandkids would take that soft pack of cigarettes out of his breast pocket. But that is okay, because the mix of the smells make up my grandfather and I will never forget it.
The fresh wood smell was from his woodworking shop. He sawed, carved and sanded pieces of wood into beautiful works of art in his garage on Tom’s Drive on that beautiful mountain in North Carolina. Toy trains, baby doll cradles and knick-knacks. His woodworking shop was one of my favorite places to be as a child. I can still hear the machines and see and smell the sawdust floating around in the air. One of the first things my brothers and cousins and I would do when we got to that idyllic cabin in the woods was go out for a walk with Nanny, Gramps and Buffy to find a big enough stick for Gramps to make into a superior walking stick for us. We loved traipsing through the woods to find that perfect stick. He would help us rate which ones were the best, then we would each bring one home and he would work his magic. They would be transformed from knotty, rough sticks into smooth, shapely pieces of wood that were obviously necessary pieces of equipment for children walking through woods. That was our walking stick for the rest of our visit to the mountain. The walk through those woods was another of my favorite things to do; the smell of the fallen leaves, Buffy running up ahead and Gramps whistling like only he could so she’d stop in her tracks, and either turn to look at him and wait for us to catch up, or come sprinting back toward us with her ears flush against her head in the wind. The views were breathtaking and the walks were always full of running, exploring and smiles.
Another thing we would do in those woods was shoot bb guns. Gramps always had a stock of little bronze colored bb’s that came in those little containers that looked like milk cartons. My brothers and I would take turns shooting things that Gramps would hang in the woods off the deck for us; tin pie cans, hanging on a branch from a string, milk cartons and cans lined up on a rotting log. He taught us how to use the gun safely and how to be a good shot. A few squirrels may have even been harmed in all of this, I don’t remember any specifics, but I’m not ruling it out.
I can’t really say I have any music or songs that remind me particularly of my grandfather, but the one thing I remember coming out of the speakers in his radio was Rush Limbaugh. Or just news in general, but mainly Rush. He was very into politics, history and current events. A veteran of WWII, he took pride in our country and made sure to instill that in all of us. He was so excited to get the hat one of my uncles got him that stated he was a WWII Vet. I was always proud to let people know my grandfather fought in the war. He flew an American flag at the top of the driveway that I always enjoyed putting up and taking down the flagpole with him. I also got to check the mail up there too which was always very exciting for me.
So, there is no denying my bratty side when I was a child…and I don’t remember all the details, but I did “run away” from Gramps once. It broke his heart. He probably told me no or I didn't get my way and my bratty self proceeded to tell him that he was not my parent, couldn't tell me what to do, so I was leaving. I made it as far as the end of the driveway and kind of just sat there under the big pine trees for a while. We had a good heart to heart after that and all was forgiven. He also stopped a movie once when things started to get racy and I informed him that, “Gramps! I’ve seen Dirty Dancing!” Still, the rest of the movie was a no-go for me that night. At least I didn’t run away;)
I can absolutely with no reserve say that of all the memories of Gramps that I have, riding on the back of his motorcycle is at the top of my list. Those were the most exhilarating rides, especially when we would ride up the mountain to Jump Off Rock. The winding roads of the mountain and wind in my face are things I can still see and feel. I remember the snug feel of the helmet and how cool I felt wearing it.
Gramps also made amazing scrambled eggs. Random, but factual! I could sit and reminisce all day about the wonders that made my grandfather’s life, the whiskery kiss on the cheek from his mustache, the big bear hugs, or the way his car used to tell us “the door is ajar” and he would say “it’s not a jar, it’s a door.” Or how he’d cheer me on at swim meets and taught me how to parallel park. I thought for a while how sad it is to bring my baby girl into a world in which Gramps no longer exists…but he does exist and he always will. Because how lucky are we all that we have these memories? The luckiest. It’s actually fan friggin’ tasticJ