Big Shoes to Fill


I was his favorite, or maybe my sister was, or my cousin.  I loved him so much that we named our firstborn, a daughter, after him.  I would crawl up in his lap and breathe in the old spice and the clean sharp smell of a bleached white shirt.  He would always let me try out his hearing aid with its mysterious static-y background, testing it out by saying,  “Hello, Gwen-o-Spears.”  I always giggled at his play on my name and how he repeatedly called girls, little boys and boys, little girls.  I don’t know why all the grandkids thought this was so hilarious, but we did.

He did not take us on outings,  play hide and seek or read us bedtime stories.  He didn’t always listen to everything we had to say, falling asleep in his recliner in front of the TV, baseball game turned on and hearing aid off.  He rarely gave us presents.*  He never attended our sporting events, class plays or piano recitals.  I don’t know why we all adored him, but we did.

Mother told me that Papaw was a real self-made man.  He had to quit school in the 8th grade and go to work, common for children of the Great Depression.  He eventually married, raised two sons, two daughters and built a successful hardware business.  I remember his hardware store, with every tool and gadget you can imagine and an upstairs floor full of toys, an addition when the grandchildren started coming.

There are family tales about my grandfather, like the time he read about a family who lost their home in a fire the week before Christmas.  Apparently, he found the location of their temporary living quarters, loaded up his car with food, tree and toys, and delivered everything to them on Christmas eve.  There are recollections of people who wrote or came by after he passed away, letting us know about secret ways in which he had helped them through a difficult time or two.  There were store receipts of unpaid balances reduced or forgiven, evidence of his helping someone else in financial trouble.

His good works prove that he was a good man, but the grandchildren were not all that impressed with the things he did or did not do, and the grandchildren knew him best, loved him most.  It had everything to do with who he was.  He was bigger than life, kinder than anyone, loving, warm, silly, gentle, kind, comforting and comfortable.  All thirteen grandchildren, now grandparents ourselves, think of him often, pray to be like him, miss him still.


*He actually paid for Santa and gave our parents help in lean times……but we didn’t know that then.