In the middle of my last run I was struck by an overwhelming need to see my grandfather. I am not sure where it came from, but it hit me, hard. I don’t see my grandparents as much as I should, I only live about 45 minutes away, but work and life just happen, and before I know it 2 weeks, or worse, 2 months have gone by, and I haven’t taken the time I should to pay them a visit.
My Pop-Pop has always been extra special to me. When I close my eyes and think of Pop, I am sitting on his shoulders being carried down his fields through the woods to go play in the sandpits. I see a giant garden big enough to feed a small town, overflowing with giant vegetables, each carefully tended by my grandfathers hoe. Books piled high all around, on every subject from world religions, history, and psychology to biology, physical science, and geology. Wooden hand made tables, cabinets, frames, bowls, and tools. Strength, independence, caring, and capability, all rolled up into one.
Pop was born in 1919, in West Virginia, a farm boy who had to walk 2 miles one way (always after chores were done) to get to his one room school house. He was a Navy man who spent the majority of World War II in a PT Boat in the South Pacific, and he saw and experienced things that are hard to imagine sitting here safe and sound on US soil – a privilege we have thanks to men like him. When he talks about those days now he gets misty eyed, hardly believing it has been almost 70 years.
This summer I stopped by the house, and he had just finished putting up his wood for next winter (that would be for 2011). About 10 cord – that he cut down in the woods and hauled up with a tractor, then bucked, split, and piled it. I couldn’t speak for my shock at what he did, shame that I wasn’t there to help, and admiration that he was able do it. A 90 year old man, mad as hell it took him so much longer to put wood up than it did back when he was 70.
He hates that he is getting older (ha, now who do you know that calls 90, “getting older”), and that things are not so easy for him as they once were. He has scaled back his garden, now I think it could only feed a small village. His joints are stiff from the years of hard work, his hands now shake from the beginning onset of Parkinson Disease – this problem in particular is his greatest frustration. This is the first serious physical degeneration I have ever seen in him, and it scares the hell out of me.
Last year when he was a mere 89, I pulled in the driveway to find my grandfather on the roof chopping ice from the eaves. In horror, I asked him to come down. In his wonderful West Virginia drawl, “Well, darlin, calm down now, I am almost done.” He finished his chopping, with me nervously watching and biting my nails, and worked his way down the ladder to embrace me in a big bear hug.
I needed one of his hugs today. Just for a little while I wanted to be that little girl riding on her grandfather’s shoulders, chatting away, not a care in the world. He was excited to hear about work and about my training, his smile broadening as I told him about my last run of 7 miles, my plan for my garden this summer, and about my race plans and goals.
He smiled at me and said, “Darlin, do it now, do it while you can. Don’t give up on any opportunity. Before you know it you are going to be as old as I am, remembering all the great stuff you used to be able to do. You don’t want to be sitting there wishing you had done it when you were younger.”
One of my greatest inspirations, at 90 years old, he is still my rock.