My Grandpa Holland taught me the joy of helping dogs in need, showed me that Hounds just make great friends. He introduced me to the back roads of our county on Sunday mornings when he would take my sister and me with him in his little red truck on what we called his “rounds” – the places he went regularly to visit with other farmers and friends.
My Grandma Holland taught me what it means to put others before yourself. She grew up in a family of ten siblings, and her mother died when she was thirteen. She was a child of the Depression years, and that time shaped her in ways that followed her throughout her life. I loved hearing stories of the meals she shared with her brothers and sisters at a big harvest style table, how they would swing from grape vines over the creek in the summers and pick pawpaws at the edge of the woods near their house. And she always carried Juicy Fruit in her purse. It just seems right that a purse should smell like Juicy Fruit.
My Grandma Johnson was the youngest child in her family, and her parents were older by the time they had her. She became their caretaker before she was a teenager, and she was self-sufficient at an age when I was still watching Scooby-Doo. She started making biscuits when she was eight, and I have never to this day had one that can begin to rival hers.
My Grandpa Johnson, who at age 75, sometimes had trouble remembering what happened the day before, could tell me the number on the motel door where he stayed the night before shipping out to Germany for World War II. When I was very young, it was hard for him to talk about his experiences there as a prisoner of war, but as I grew older, he would share bits and pieces about how long they would go without food, the potato peelings and turnips the guards would throw them when they did get fed, how when they were finally rescued, one of his fellow soldiers died after eating too many of the doughnuts brought to them by the Red Cross.
Their world was a totally different world from the one I grew up in. And today, looking back, it seems even more hard to believe that was their life. But it was. And the bits and pieces of it that they shared with me are what I will carry with me throughout my life.
I think of the times when I sat and listened to them talk of their experiences, and my only regret is that I didn’t sit longer or ask them to talk about their lives more often. I can still see my Grandpa Johnson sitting under the maple shade tree in their yard, stringing a metal wash pan full of green beans, his sun-browned arthritic hands quick at the task. There I am beside him in that orange and white nylon web lounge chair, hugging my knees to my chest, rapt as he transports me to that place and time.
I miss him so much.