This day is always a little tough for me.
A flashback: October 9, 1982. I am nine years old.
It’s a Saturday, and my sister Betsy is getting married. At the ceremony, she’s asked my maternal grandfather to give a short prayer. Grandpa (born Feb. 13, 1912) was a preacher for years, so this isn’t a big deal for him, yet he’s struggling. He’s clearly emotionally overwhelmed by his oldest granddaughter getting married. This was a side of Grandpa I had never seen. Grandpa was an extremely funny man, clever but never biting. And how he loved his grandchildren. (Aside to any fellow grandkids reading: Remember “Caught in a trap and you can’t get out!”?) The man taught himself enough Greek to understand his beloved Bible better. He was a voracious reader. He was also a fantastic musician, though he couldn’t read a note. Until a farming-related accident (and for the record, I don’t think there’s a man born before 1935 in that family with all his fingers), he could play fiddle, guitar, banjo, piano, and organ by ear. And we’re not just talking picking out melodies – the man had chops. My cousin Doug has restored his old fiddle. He could sing – oh how that man could sing. As much as he was known for being a preacher, he was probably known more for being a song leader. In tune, in good tempo, and it stayed there; this is no mean feat for a mostly-untrained a capella country church. So when I heard him sobbing a little during his prayer, it affected me deeply, though I didn’t realize it at the time.
So that’s just one day. Why does it still resonate?
Soon thereafter, Grandpa took ill. He’d had diabetes, but around late December 1982/early January 1983 it turned much, much worse. For ten months, I watched him deteriorate, his once-sharp mind clouded with painkillers and kidney failure, his round face thinning out, his robust voice now barely more than a whisper.
We were at church on a Sunday morning when my uncle Lowell came in (Mom and her sister Patsy were already at Grandpa’s bedside). Lowell walked to the pew where Grandpa’s sister Virginia (my beloved Aunt Ginny, the only other liberal in the family!) was sitting. He whispered something to her, and she immediately began crying and walked out with Lowell.
Grandpa – David Alvalee Williams – passed away a few minutes later.
The date of his passing?
October 9, 1983.
One year to the day.
It’s been thirty years. He’d be 101 now.
I still miss him.