Presentation on theme: "My Grandfather’s Chest By Mr. Lewis. My Grandfather’s Chest I never knew Grandfather very well. He lived in Kentucky on an old farm, and I live in California,"— Presentation transcript:
My Grandfather’s Chest I never knew Grandfather very well. He lived in Kentucky on an old farm, and I live in California, in a track house. Come to think of it – I was separated from Grandfather, not only by distance, but by daily life tasks as well: A normal day for me, as a kid in Bakersfield, California, was going to school, playing with my friends, watching TV, and then going to bed. My dad told me that Grandfather’s regular day consisted of getting up before sun rise, milking cows, fishing in Catfish Pond, tilling the soil, reading the Bible, and then going to bed soon after sunset. I always thought that I had nothing in common with him, but later in life, I learned different.
In the summer of 1967, my family and I took at trip to Kentucky to visit Grandfather. My grandmother, Elsie, had died that year, so he was living alone. The only company he had and still cherished was his old hound dog, Hank. The trip to Grandfather’s house was long, but it was filled with hours of countless stories from dad. Most of his recollections were about how Grandfather used to take him fishing in Catfish Pond and how my dad would sit for hours with Grandfather and never say a word. They just sat on the dock, wiggling their lines once in a while, waiting of a nibble or jerk. Another account was about how Grandfather would squirt milk on my dad, right from a cow’s utter. The trip was long, but it went by fast. Grandfather’s stories filled my mind. I don’t recall thinking about nothing else.
We arrived at Grandfather’s farm late in the evening. I remember getting out of our 1967 Chevy Impala and seeing lightning bugs dart through his rows of corn. I can still see the brightening and fading of their phosphorescent tails as they lightened a path way through the field. My dad pointed out that when he was a boy - my age, he used to catch the fire flies in a jar, seal the opening, and place the container on his night stand, just before going to bed. I thought that was the neatest thing in the world. I too wanted to experience his childhood. Dad said, “Grandfather showed me how to sneak up on the bugs. Maybe, he’ll show you too tomorrow.” I could hardly wait.
When we got to Grandfather’s doorstep, we could hear whistling and chuckling inside. Mom knocked on the old screen door. The ruckus stopped, and I could hear Grandfather’s steps as he came closer to us. He asked, “Donald, is that you?” My dad said, “Yes, and Marge and Ernie are with me.” I did not realize that our arrival was a complete surprise to Grandfather, but it was. When Grandfather peered through the screen, I could see a smile form on his tired, weathered face. He quickly opened the door and embraced us in a group hug. Grandfather, mom and dad shed tears of joy. I was in a daze and simply happy that I could finally meet the man that my dad worshiped: Grandfather. My tears were still yet to come.
Grandfather looked just as my dad told me. He was tall and husky, and he had white hair. His hands were calloused from years of farm labor, yet they were gentle to the touch. Grandfather raised six boys and two girls, basically by himself. Grandmother cared for the children while he worked the land, but he did all the chores around the farm. In the 1800s, Grandfather’s dad, my great grandfather, received 40 acres of land through a land grant. The land was used mostly for raising corn, but other crops reached harvest on it as well. My dad too helped on the farm, but it was Grandfather who did the extreme work, and it showed. Grandfather looked directly at me and said, “So you are Ernie, my grandson whom I’ve heard so much about. I am proud to meet you.” I said, “Yes, that is my name, and I’ve heard a great deal about you from dad.
Grandfather asked if we had heard him whistling and laughing when we came to the door. My dad said, “Yes, we did.” I asked, “Is there something wrong.” “No, Grandfather said. “You guys just caught me in a good mood,” explained Grandfather, “Hank and I found comfort in a quick game of fetch. He always comes running back when I whistle. This time, he made me laugh because instead of coming back to me with the stick that I threw, he came back to me with one of my shoes in his mouth. Grandfather invited us in the house and insisted that we stay forever, of course that was not possible, but we kindly accepted his offer to enter. On the fire mantle were many photos of my dad, his brother, and sisters. One of the photos had a picture of dad with his mom at a New Jersey beach. It was dated 1946.
Grandmother was truly a lovely women. She was small in frame, but both my dad and Grandfather exclaimed that “she carried a big punch when it came to keeping kids in line.” At that time, I saw Grandfather and my dad sink into a depression. Dad told Grandfather that he felt guilty because he had not kept in touch with Grandfather and Grandmother throughout the years. Grandfather said that he understood. He also told my dad that he had something under the bed that he needed to see. It was something that he had been saving for years: memories, sort of say. Grandfather took us to the living room where he brought my mom and dad coffee to drink. He served me hot chocolate. Man, it was good. We sipped our treats and talked of days gone by. Most of them occurred before me, but I listened anyway.
After sharing stories, Grandfather took my dad and me upstairs to his bedroom. He asked us to give him a hand because what he had to show us weighed a great deal. All of us bent down, looked under Grandfather’s bed, saw three handles, and pulled. Out came a chest, a long chest covered in leather. My eyes gazed upon its beauty. I had never seen a chest so detailed in my life. Grandfather said that he has many years of memories locked in the box. My dad asked, “Memories, which ones?” Grandfather softly said, “Memories of you, memories of your mother, memories of your sisters, memories, of your brothers – I have memories of our family.” Grandfather reached into his pocket and slowly pulled out a key. With the grace of an ice skater, he opened a big brass lock, took it off the latch, and laid it on the bedspread.
My dad and I watched Grandfather lift the lid and lean it on the wall. He then asked us to call my mom in the room because he had something to say. My mom was in the kitchen cleaning the coffee and hot chocolate mugs. She heard dad call her and said, “I am on my way.” Within a minute, she was sitting with us, waiting for Grandfather’s words. Grandfather took a lock of hair from the chest. He held it in his hands, looked at my dad, and said, “This hair came from your mother. I cut it off her head the day she died. It is the only worldly part of her I have left.” As he held the lock, he told us stories about when he first met Grandmother. He told us about their first date, their first kiss and how it confirmed his love for her, their first born – dad’s oldest sister, Kate who died from Scarlet Fever when she was ten – and their last kiss that has not left his lips since Grandmother’s death.
He slowly returned the lock back to its resting place in the chest. Then, he grabbed an old compass and told us a story about how the compass helped him return to his troop in Germany during WW I. Grandfather was an artillery man during the war. Apparently, he go lost when the Germans blew up his camp. He was temporarily blinded from the impact, but he knew that his troop’s new camp was due south of the old camp, so he reached in his night sack and pulled out a compass, the one that he was showing us. He said, “Knowing how to read a compass has saved my life more than once.” He looked at me and asked me to open my hand. Ever so gingerly, he place the compass in my hand and said, “Ernie, I want you to have this compass. There should be no reason now to get lost. Always think of my near fatal day in Germany when you see it. May this memory live with you forever.” I was floored. Better yet, I was breathless. I thanked Grandfather and placed the direction finder in my coat pocket. I said, “Grandfather, what else do you have to share? What other memories do you have?”
Grandfather looked at me and said, “I have plenty.” My dad asked, “Do you still have my first baseman’s glove?” Grandfather said, “Yes.” He reached inside the chest to produce it. Grandfather said that he kept it because it reminded him of my dad’s efforts to win the Little League Championship of 1956. Dad hit a home run the final game with bases loaded. Grandfather will never forget that. My dad, mom, and I stayed for hours in Grandfather’s room reminiscing, telling jokes, sharing events, and the like. I thought we would never stop, but Grandfather became very tired. He said that it was best if we all got some rest. He had many more stories to share with us in the morning. I, for one, could not wait to hear them. Dad and Mom took me to a spare room with a Murphy bed hid in the wall. They told me brush my teeth, and they both kissed me goodnight. I was in heaven. I feel asleep fast once I hit the sack.
Morning came fast, Dad, Mom and Grandfather were already up by the time I got out of bed. The smell of coffee and bacon filled the air. It was wonderful. When I got to the table, I saw a box sitting by the chair that I sat on the night before. Grandfather said, “Good morning my dear grandson. I have a surprise for you. Yes, it is in the box.” My eyes were open as wide as quarters. Mom and Dad smiled and gave me the “okay” to open it. I picked up the box and opened it up slowly. Inside were photos of my grandmother, my dad’s baseball mitt, Grandfather’s watch and war medals, buttons from Grandfather’s military outfit, and a $100.00 sliver certificate. The items came from his memory chest. I was so excited about my gifts that all I could exclaim was, “Thank you!” Grandfather said that he wanted me to have his prize possessions. He told me to always keep them close to my heart because they would help me remember our visit. I felt ten feet tall.
We stayed with Grandfather for two full days. Our time was priceless. To be honest, those days were the best two days of my young life. On the way home, my dad and mom praised me for acting so grown up around Grandfather. I told them that I was not acting. I told them that I truly appreciated the fact that I finally met the man who had so much influence on Dad. I looked up to my dad because he was honest, hard working, truthful, respectful, and loving. Grandfather was all that too. I recall holding the box in my arms all the way home, not to loose sight of it. Later in life, after my son turned 10, I gave the box and its belonging to him. I made sure that Dad and Mom was with me when I did. And, as with Grandfather, we talked and shared stories of long ago. It was on that day that I noticed the similarities that I shared with Grandfather and Dad, and after we were finished bonding, I looked in my son’s eyes to see that he too shared those precious traits of Grandfather, Dad, and me.
Grandfather died in 1970, but the memories that I took back with me to Bakersfield, California, have never left me. When I feel alone or lost, I reach in my pocket and pull out the compass that he gave me. Somehow, it always points me in the right direction.