I have something to share with you. A long time ago, it became a habit of mine to write about the life of a loved one lost because that is what writers do. I would never share these stories with anyone. Now, I think I must share this with all the ones who have been so supportive in the blogging world. Thanks in advance for reading.
A Lesson From Grandpa
I stood there in the hot September sun of 1982. I was lean back then, lean from my youth and also from the hard farm work that I had done my whole life. I had hauled hay, cut tobacco, hauled manure, shoveled corn, dug ditches, and cut more firewood than most people ever see. I was small at first glance, no more than a hundred and forty-five pounds, but I was also strong for my size and athletic. I could not only keep up with the big boys, but outdo the lazier ones. I had worked bigger, stronger men into the ground and was very proud of that fact.
At sixteen, everything was a competition to me. Being small in stature, I was in a constant state of having to prove myself and, every time I got the chance, I took it. Sometimes it was on a backyard football field, playing tackle with the big boys and hanging right in. Other times it was the rough and tumble basketball world of Barnes schoolhouse, where you called your own fouls…or you didn’t. Heavy contact was the norm in those games and blood was not out of question ever. At times it was volleyball, horseshoes. Any reason to compete and win, I was there.
On this hot and sunny day the source of the competition was a long stretch of dark tobacco that was standing out in front of me. At the front of the row was me, with a tobacco knife in hand, bandana wrapped around my head to keep the sweat out and my grandfather with the same weapons. When the cutting was done, four rows and fifty yards of tobacco would be on the ground, ready for the spikes. It was four rows and fifty yards – two rows for him and two rows for me – and I was going to get there first.
The one thing you have to understand about his whole set up is this. It wasn’t a competition to my grandfather. It was just another field of tobacco to him, just another hot day in a farmer’s life. But when I cut my eyes around at him, I still remember feeling bold and confident. He was sixty-two years old, semi-retired and not nearly the man he used to be. There was no way he was getting there first. The look on my face was one of smugness. No, it wasn’t a competition to Grandpa. It wasn’t, that is, until he saw the cocky smirk on his grandson’s face. It had been 19 years since that happened and I will never forget the look that took over his face. It had just become a competition.
Well, I can tell you that the competition was just fine with me. I certainly didn’t care who was on the other side of the victory. Grandpa was no slouch in the field, but he was sixty-two and couldn’t handle me.
Well, I was very good at cutting tobacco, a fact that just wasn’t in dispute. I could fly through a tobacco patch with the grace of a mower and I did this time as well. There were six or eight of us cutting tobacco that day and I was faster than nearly all of them and, at the other end of the row, all the other cutters were amazed. When we were all standing around the water cooler, soaking up the shade, they couldn’t stop talking about it.
Oh, they were talking about me. No, sir, they most certainly were not. They were talking about the speed of a sixty-two year old man. You see, I didn’t beat Grandpa to the end of the row. Hell, I didn’t even come close to beating him. As a matter of fact as I plowed to the end of the row far ahead of everyone else that day, Grandpa had not only finished out his row, but was coming back down mine. He was finishing up my row.
At the end of the row, there was no look of satisfaction on his face, no aura of victory pervaded him. He acted as if nothing had happened between us. It was just another row of tobacco to him, another thirty minutes worth of work in a lifetime of hard work.
To his grandson, it was something far more valuable. It was a lesson in humility that I will never forget. At sixty-two years old, he put me in my place. Now, he could have done it with a single word. Even though this narrative may not have left you with that impression, my respect for him was such that a single phrase of “knock it off” or “wipe that smirk off your face” would have been enough. I would have done so instantly and not had a single word of backtalk for him. But Grandpa chose a much more effective way to knock that smirk off my face. He did it in such a way has never left and never will.
I suspect that was his intention all along.
I want to thank you all for letting me share this with you and please forgive me if there are any typos or misspellings. I have never told this story to anyone and I wanted you to read after one telling with the emotions raw and just the way I remembered it. Frank M. Pope had as much to do with changing the stupid boy that I was into the man I became as any other person on the face of the planet. I did not want to edit or cheapen this telling in any way.
And tonight, after nearly ninety-one years on this earth, after a lifetime of truly serving God and his family, he rests.
Frank Pope 1920-2011 Age 90.
Rest in Peace Grandpa