Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Ode to My Grandfather

I just wanted to share this with everyone. It is neither a meme nor a Scribblings Challenge, but a short essay I had to write for an application I submitted this week. You all probably heard this story before, but this time I actually had to make it coherent. With Father's Day coming up, it just seemed to fit . . .

The Topic: Describe an event or individual that has been instrumental in shaping who you are. Tell us why this event/person has been significant in your life. (In less than 500 words)


Grandpa Henry was a big man. Not only big in relation to an adoring granddaughter, but at over six feet tall and roughly 300 pounds, he always made a big impression when he walked into a room with his charisma and booming infectious laugh.

Whenever he was around, I felt special. On both sides of the family, I was one of many grandchildren and tended to get lost in the hustle and bustle at large family gatherings in my hometown of Philadelphia. However, Grandpa would always take time to try to play with me and talk to me. Every so often, he would give my mother money to buy books that she thought that I would enjoy. He was proud of my schoolwork and always encouraged me to do my best.

After my family moved to Virginia in my junior year of high school, I did not get to see him very often. Occasionally, I spoke with him on the phone, but long-distance phone calls were expensive. During this time, unbeknownst to me, Grandpa became sick with an aggressive form of cancer. The last time I spoke to him was during a phone call in February 1987. He sounded very tired, but wanted to hear how I was doing. My high school graduation was coming up and I wanted to make sure he would be there. “You’re coming to my graduation, right Grandpa?” I asked. I did not notice at the time, but now I will never forget, he hesitated a bit before answering. “Of course, Kitty, I will be there.”

My mother received a call on St. Patrick’s Day that Grandpa died in his sleep. He was only 62 years old. I was devastated and sleep-walked through the funeral. I finished the school year but cried bitterly on graduation day because he was not there.

Later, it came out that Grandpa had been functionally illiterate. My grandmother and mother had covered up that fact from everyone for many years. Growing up as an African American in rural Alabama in the 1920s did not afford him the opportunity for a good education. He wanted to make sure that I took advantage of the opportunities that he did not have growing up. As an adult, I realize what a gift he gave me, and I wanted to honor his memory by sharing his gift with others.

A few years ago, I started volunteering with the [local volunteer group] as an English as a Second Language teacher. In my classes are people from all walks of life who are trying to learn to read, write and speak English to secure a better life for themselves and their families. I enjoy teaching these classes and seeing the triumph in students’ eyes when they figure out some difficult grammar or turn of phrase. In my teaching, I hope Grandpa Henry would be proud of me for helping to give others chances that he did not have.


Virginia Gal said...

That was beautiful and so moving (I'm in tears). Thank you for sharing. God bless your grandpa (my grandpa encouraged my love of reading as well).

mommanator said...

quite moving Kath, must write something for father's day myself- I have so many stories!