Larger Than Life
I was the first born granddaughter of a first born daughter in the early 70’s in Huntsville, Alabama. To say I was spoiled would be an understatement. From my earliest recollection, my life was filled with extended family, always ready with a song, a book or some other pastime to keep me entertained. My mom’s younger sisters were just 14 and 15 when I was born, making me a good living baby doll for them to practice on. I had cousins living right next door and my dad’s mother living down the street. My mom’s parents didn’t live with us, but I honestly recall it feeling like they were always around.
My mother returned to work when I was one, leaving me in the care of my grandmother — her mother. I called her Annay from the time I could talk, being unable to say Grandmom. She said I could call her anything but Grandma or Granny, but it seems to me that the latter was just what I was trying to say. She was always kind of crazy in a good way — always ready to act silly and make me laugh. We played lots of cards and never missed an episode of The Price is Right. She loved to sew and tried to teach me from a young age, but it never took. She had a mighty temper when riled and would often threaten to make me go get a switch so she could stripe my legs. I can only remember one time she followed through on that, so for the most part she was all bark and no bite. Her place was in the kitchen. She felt most at home and in her element when cooking for a crowd. And feed you she would — no stranger ever entered her kitchen.
When I was a few years old, my Granddaddy bought a convenience store in our small mountain community, and I started going to work with Annay during the day. I would play among the aisles, making up games and entertaining myself while she was busy with customers and stock. Looking back on my childhood, I have such fond memories of those moments where I spent most of my youngest years, at my Annay’s side. However, the truly bright shining moments that stand out in my memory, far above any others were the ones in which my Granddaddy was involved.
Granddaddy was a sergeant with the Huntsville Police Department by the time I was born. He had been a murder detective and would later run for sheriff, but in those early years I remember so vividly, he worked a shift that ended at 3 every afternoon. And that was magic hour for me. He would come to the store, still in his uniform and grab me up in a big hug. We would head for the big cooler room and pick out our Cokes, grab a Kit Kat to share, and indulge together while he caught up with Annay about the goings-on of the day. I would sit next to him where he plopped me down on the check-out counter, happily swinging my legs and swigging my Coke. We couldn’t linger too long, or we would miss our afternoon cartoons. Out we would head in his patrol car to sit in his easy chair and laugh over the antics of Road Runner and the misfortunes of Wyle E. Coyote. Sometimes he would doze while Andy Griffith was on, sometimes we would hop in LulaBelle, his white GMC pickup, and go check on a house he was building at the time.
It didn’t matter what it was we were doing. I was his pal. I was his Number One Grandbaby -he called me that more often than not. And I wanted to be just like him. I had khakis and a tool belt for when we worked on houses together. I had a pretend radio so I could talk on it just like he did. When I played outside by myself, I would pretend to drive around in old LulaBelle.
He was the best man I have ever known. He was kind. He would drop anything to help anyone. He was fair. Honest. Just. I had him to myself for a full five years and one week. That’s when my brother came along. It never occurred to me I would be anything but his Number One Grandbaby. And he never did anything that made me feel any less than that.
Many people have told and still tell me their own personal stories about “Sarge”. His kindness and compassion. How he made them feel they were important, that they had a place in his life, in the lives of others, in their community. My Granddaddy was a busy man, yet I never felt like he didn’t have time for me. I felt love, acceptance, belonging. Always. And I believe many others felt and appreciated the same.
Granddaddy became sick when I was fourteen, and after what seemed a long battle, he succumbed to lung cancer in October of my fifteenth year. The day he died, he had me come close by his hospital bed. I could hardly stand to see him this way, this robust man so normally full of life, so diminished and waxen. He hugged me one last time that day and rasped in my ear words I will never forget: “Number One, you’re my Number One. You can never disappoint me.” He died later that day. It took me two years to be able to cry about it. I wish now that I had thought to write down all the little memories that I have long since forgotten with the passing of years. What I never will forget is the man who in my young mind was larger than life and to this day no one can usurp as the best man I have ever known.