June 17, 2008

Grandpa Butch was precious for his love, his laugh

He carried a package of Chiclets gum in the bib pocket of his Big Smith overalls. He toiled the land of his small Kansas farm with a John Deere tractor.

His name was Edward but everyone called him Butch. I called him Grandpa.
I was his oldest grandchild and only granddaughter. He doted on me and I adored him. He had an infectious laugh and I loved spending time with him. One summer he built me a play house complete with a sliding glass window. None of my friends had glass windows in their play houses. I felt so special.
He enjoyed indulging me. He once handed me a cardboard box which he said contained freshly dug potatoes. When I peeked inside I saw, to my surprise, not potatoes but a furry, white puppy. I can still recall the smile on Grandpa’s Butch’s face when he saw my reaction to that puppy.
I was seven and at my grandparents home the night my mother went to the hospital to give birth to her third child. We anxiously awaited a phone call from my father. I already had a younger brother and I desperately wanted a sister. When the call finally came and my father announced it was a boy I was devastated and couldn’t stop crying.
My grandparents tried every trick in the book to calm me down. Finally, Grandpa suggested that if I stop crying he will take me into town in the morning and buy me a new red wagon. It was music to my ears. I dried my tears, put on my pajamas and went straight to bed.
Grandpa always kept his promises to me so the next morning, after breakfast, he drove me into town and we went to the hardware store. It no longer mattered that I didn’t get a baby sister. I had a brand new, shiny red wagon.
I was 15 and enrolled in driver’s education. Grandpa learned that the car we would drive for our instruction was the same make and model of his car. He suggested I practice driving using his car. I passed drivers education with flying colors.

One day, while dismantling a fence, the end of a barbed wire coil flew out of his hands and struck his eye. The damage was extensive and Grandpa had to learn to live with a prosthetic eye. Ever a man with a sense of humor, he would tell people that his new eye looked so good he was considering having his other eye replaced.

I was nineteen and in college the day I got the call that Grandpa Butch had died from a massive heart attack. I jumped in my car and hurriedly drove the fifty miles home to be with my family. My tears flowed as the men’s choir sang “Nearer My God to Thee” during the funeral at the little, white, country church he and my Grandmother attended.

Losing Grandpa was like nothing I had ever experienced. I missed phoning him and hearing his voice fill with excitement when he realized it was me on the other end. I feared forgetting the sound of his laughter so I would revisit memories of times when he was laughing. My goal was to keep his laugh indelibly etched in my mind.

I grieved his loss for years. I wished he could have seen me graduate from college and marry. When I became a mother I imagined how excited he would have been to hold his great-grandchildren.

He’s been gone for nearly 30 years. The joy he brought to my life continues through old photographs and a ball of fabric salvaged from a pair of his overalls. Precious memories, filled with the sound of laughter; of Grandpa Butch.

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