It’s disconcerting to have a one-year-old right now. You see, my grandfather just died and my world feels a bit off kilter. But my son doesn’t understand a giant puzzle piece is missing. He knows that his toys are waiting for him to play with them, the sun is shining, and he’s hungry. So—despite a deep desire to hide under the covers—I’m down on the floor with a train set, and going for walks around the neighborhood, and making little lunches. And if my grandpa were here he’d tell me that’s exactly what I should be doing. My grandpa believed in giving, and laughing, and being with your family.
My grandpa wasn’t a religious man. In fact, if you asked him about religion you’d probably hear a number of slightly off-putting remarks (he wasn’t a PC-type of guy either). But he was one of the most Christian people I knew. Often he’d start a story with, “I was talking to this bum…” (remember he wasn’t the PC type). And I’d learn that instead of giving money to a person down on hard times, he’d given them a ride to McDonald’s and had lunch with them. That’s how he was. I have no idea how many times this happened, but I suspect it was quite a lot over the years given the number of stories he told me.
After I grew up and called home my grandpa always wanted to know if I had enough to eat and if there was anything I needed. Always. He spent his childhood in the wake of the Great Depression and carried an acute awareness of scarcity. Even after I was in my thirties, owning my own home, and caring for my own child. He asked: do you have enough? Can I get you anything? And, genuinely, he would have dropped everything to provide for me if I had listed a need.
And, Dear Lord, the man had a sense of humor. When I was in middle school we took a large family trip to Hawaii. I remember riding the hotel elevator when a fellow rider complimented his bucket hat. He looked them straight in the eye and told them, “Well… this hat serves two purposes: it protects me from the sun and ... [he took it off his head and turned it over in his hands so it looked like a basket] it helps me pay for this trip.” And he reached the upside-down hat toward the fellow passenger as if asking them to put money in it. At the time, I thought he was downright nuts, but 20 years later I still laugh so hard I cry when I tell that story.
When I was little, he used to carry me around and tell me, in a the silliest voices, tall tales. In my memories, a billy goat was often involved. I found myself reading billy goat stories to my son this week. And when he gets older I’ll tell him Grandpa Ray loved telling stories about billy goats. And when he asks me about Grandpa Ray I’ll tell him he was the silliest, most generous man around. And he loved him before he met him. And that we are all so lucky to have been loved by Francis “Ray” Stanley.