BY PAXSON HAWS, JMC 3023
My grandpa has a large, wood, oval dining room table covered in acrylic paint in a rainbow of colors. The table was always in his house. It followed him across northern Missouri, from Sheridan, to Hopkins and finally Maryville. We never ate at this table when I was little. Instead, this table was dedicated to the various art projects my grandpa would make with me.
I spent a lot of time with my grandparents when I was little. My mom needed the extra help since my dad was in my life for only the first six months. She worked the night shift at the prison and then worked as a bartender when she went back to school. My grandparents watched me while my mom worked.
I spent just as much, maybe even more, time with my grandparents as I did my mom.
Our bond was incredibly strong – it still is – except it’s just my grandpa now. We lost my grandmother when I was 4. I was at dance practice when she passed. When my grandpa arrived at the hospital, he asked the nurse for a pair of scissors. The nurse thought he was going to hurt himself, but he just wanted to cut a lock of her hair.
Losing grandma crushed my grandpa. She was everything he ever wanted – despite praying for God to send him the exact opposite. He prayed for an unmarried, childless woman. But in 1966, Gary Constant married Betty Schupp, a divorced, single mother, in the living room of his sister’s house in St. Joseph.
They had one daughter together, my mother. He worked a variety of carpentry jobs while taking care of livestock. Grandma worked at a nursing home until she was too sick to work. When she got sick, he worked less and took care of her.
He loved her with his whole heart. He still does at 80 years old, 15 years after her death.
After she passed, I stayed with my grandpa for two weeks because I was afraid I would lose him too. The only reason I went home was because my mom demanded to see her daughter and have her home again.
If I hadn’t stayed with him, he told me later I would have lost him.
He calls me his rock.
As I grew older, my bond with my grandpa strengthened. When we moved to Hopkins, he did, too. He never lived more than 20 minutes away. I spent Friday nights at his house and it wasn’t uncommon for those Friday nights at grandpa’s to turn into a weekend at grandpa’s. We converted our garage into an apartment when I was in fifth grade for him so our talks were more frequent.
Our weekends were spent sitting around that paint covered table talking about a variety of subjects. We talked about the family stories my great-great-grandpa Jeff told my grandpa. That conversation always ended the same way. Yes, Jesse James is our cousin even though we can’t prove it. Great-great-grandpa Jeff would never make those stories up.
We talked Bible verses, how we interpreted them and how they applied to life situations. I told him about what happened at school and with my friends. When someone did something dumb, he would always say, “Well hun, not everyone can be as perfect as we are.”
Music was a subject discussed often because we both love it. He doesn’t like today’s music because he claims the artists can’t sing as fluidly as his generation. If a singer makes a funny face when hitting a note, grandpa says its because they just aren’t that good.
He has introduced me to some of my favorite country singers. I don’t know all the words to a single rap song, but I can sing almost every word to every song on the Patsy Cline Greatest Hits Collection CD. It was common to find us singing “Tennessee Waltz” while cooking fried chicken or building furniture for my room. We sang only the Patti Page version though – hers is the only good version. Patsy Cline’s our favorite but not even her version can compete with Page’s.
It was more than just a fun weekend with my grandpa though. He continued to help out in every aspect of my life.
If my mom couldn’t be somewhere, he was. If my mom couldn’t take me somewhere, he did.
But it wasn’t until seventh grade that I realized he was the closest thing to a father figure I have ever had.
In middle school, I spent a week each summer at Grand Oak church camp with my youth group. I had the same cabin every year – the same cabin leader and same roommates.
During evening service, our youth pastor was preaching about how God can fill voids in people’s lives. He specifically mentioned voids left by absent parents. These few sentences brought a wave of emotion over the eight girls in my cabin. Glances were shared, hands were held and tears starting streaming down the faces of everyone.
The service was cut short for us to have alone time to talk out our emotions and what in our lives caused them.
That’s what caused all the tears.
We spent the rest of the night sharing our individual stories of our fathers. Our cabin leader told us that these men weren’t in our lives for a reason and God was there to fill that spot.
She was right, but she was also wrong. God fills that void in a spiritual way. My grandpa fills it in every other way.
He’s my rock.
I never lived more than 25 minutes from my grandpa until two years ago. Now, I live seven hours away.
It’s changed the entire dynamic of our relationship.
I can’t run down to his house every night, sit at the paint covered table and have hours-long conversations.
I can’t watch the “Titanic” or “Second-Hand Lion” with him whenever I want.
I can’t throw a record on and sing Patsy’s “Walking After Midnight” with him whenever I want.
Instead, we settle for daily text conversation and weekly phone calls.
The paint on that oval table started to fade away as I grew older and painted less. The paint faded away much like my grandpa’s health.
Last September, my grandpa had two heart attacks in a week. He tried to hide it from us because I was coming come that weekend. My mom only found out about them when he backed into a car at the doctor’s office. He refused to go to the hospital because he just wanted to see me one last time. I drove seven hours home with tears streaming down my face that weekend.
That is when we decided I had to come home once a month.
The day after Thanksgiving, he had another heart attack. I watched this one happen. I saw him collapse as he walked into the living room. I remember him squeezing my hand to let me know he was still there. The ambulance came and we spent the next eight hours in the emergency room.
The week before Christmas, he spent three days in the hospital and we found out only 20 percent of his heart functioned properly. Surgery isn’t an option, but the correct combination of medication is keeping him from having another attack, keeping him alive.
The distance and his health scares have made me value our time together more. We both know we don’t have all the time in the world together anymore.
Although our relationship has changed, our bond hasn’t.
Before I leave for college every semester, he says, “These next few months are going to suck. But you need to do what’s right for you. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but it sucks.”
Oklahoma is right for me but it does suck. We make it work, though.
Because we’re each other’s rocks.