Tuesday, March 25, 2014

My Number One

My granddaddy was, as they say, a character. One-of-a-kind. They broke the mold when they made him--you can use all the clichés around, and they fit him perfectly. He was fiery, feisty, loyal, and loving, and best of all (for me, anyway): he adored me. The feeling was mutual.

Robert Lee Smith, or R.L. as he was known, was a great man born in the greatest generation. We joked that he worked at practically every job there is at one point or another in his life, and he worked hard and did it well. He was a natural salesman; in my mind, he might have been the first person to sell ice to an Eskimo. Laziness was not part of his DNA--in fact, a typical day for him in his eighties was more than I could keep up with in my thirties. He was a force of nature.

My granddaddy even had his own unique words of wisdom, or "R.L.isms" as we called them. These were given as advice, and usually they were not only right, they were full of humor as well. Here's a handful of R.L.isms that I will never forget:

A man's just as happy as he wants to be.
I'm not just going to buy a pig in a poke.
That's using your head for more than just a hat rack.
If your outgo exceeds your income, then your upkeep will be your downfall.
That's in the rear view mirror; I'm looking out the front windshield now.
You can never put a dollar so low that someone won't stoop to pick it up.
A poor ride beats a proud walk.

See what I mean? And that is just a small sample of his 'isms. To say that Granddaddy was unique is a bit of an understatement. I've had a hard time condensing all the things I could say about him into just one blog post. There are some qualities, I'm proud to say, you may find are also familiar to a granddaughter of his. Like his flair for clothing, and his love of jewelry (I have told people for years that my love of bright colors and shiny things is in my genes, and this is not an exaggeration). Or his impatience and sometimes short temper (yep, I got those, too). We may or may not have shared a bit of stubbornness--but it's not in my nature to admit it.

The thing that most describes my granddaddy is, without question, generosity. He was the type of man who would very literally give you the shirt off his back. I learned early on to be careful about telling him that I liked something of his, because he would immediately insist on giving it to me (this includes but is not limited to: t-shirts, cufflinks, food, books, and power tools). At his funeral, his preacher told a story of the time he asked the congregation if anyone had an extra Bible they might share with a new member who did not have one and couldn't afford to buy a new one. Without any hesitation, Granddaddy jumped to his feet and said, "Here, take mine. I've read it and I already know how it ends."

As his first grandchild, I was on the receiving end of that generosity from the very start. When I was two years old, I brought him a picture of a ballerina from a magazine and told him, "Granddaddy, I want to be this." He had my mom enroll me in dance classes (which he paid for) immediately. Never mind the fact that I was too young to even walk in tap shoes and my poor mother had to carry me to my spot in class each week. Ask Granddaddy and ye shall receive.

He nicknamed me "Big Stuff," because in his opinion, I was just that. Our way of saying goodbye to each other was to give the thumbs up sign and tell the other, "You're my number one." And he was: my number one fan in every thing I ever did. The ultimate encourager, full of fun and mischief, and forever spoiling me every chance he got. He took me on my first trip to Disney World. I was convinced they had set up the entire park just for Granddaddy and his guests--he seemed magical that way to me.

Almost every day after school, we went to the furniture store he owned to visit with him and he walked me down the street to the bakery for doughnut holes and a "brown cow" (his very cool name for chocolate milk). I can still hear the sound of his wingtip shoes on the pavement as we walked together. As many weekends as possible, I spent the night at my grandparents' house, where Granddaddy would hold contests in the summer to see who could catch the most lightening bugs in their mason jar. Amazingly, even when it seemed my jar had come up short, I always won the contest, and the cash prize that came with it.

It delighted the salesman in him when I would set up my own "store" in my grandparents' laundry room and proceed to sell items from around their house--so much so that he would pay me real money for whatever I happened to be selling: $2 for a stapler, $1 for a jar of jelly. The man used hundreds of packages of Polaroid film, all because I loved saying, "Granddaddy, take my picture." He would put me in his lap and completely let go of the steering wheel and let me drive his car--which might have resulted in a few off-road careening moments that I found hysterical. I can't think about my granddaddy without smiling and thinking of trips we took, jokes we shared, advice he gave. I think most of the people that knew him feel the same way.

When he died in 2012, he left me one of his most prized possessions, his red Lincoln Town Car (which he had appropriately named "Old Abraham"). My granddaddy was always trying to think of something that I might need or be able to use, and he had decided that I might just need an extra car. After weeks of contemplating what to do with Abraham, I (very sadly) decided to sell the car. It suited my granddaddy to a "T," but I already had a car and I also had a strong feeling that a 30-something tooling around Charlotte in a red Town Car might draw some quizzical looks.

It's taken almost two years for me to decide what to do with the money I got for the car. It had to be something that I would always have, and something appropriate as my last gift from my number one. Last week, Clint and I took a trip to the jewelry store and I bought a beautiful watch that I had wanted for a very long time. As we paid for the watch, I looked at Clint and remarked that the watch had taken the place of Old Abraham. Clint smiled knowingly and told me that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and reminded me that the man who loved watches and jewelry would also love giving this gift to his granddaughter.

I'll think of Granddaddy every time I wear my watch. It's bittersweet because as much as I love it, I would give it back a thousand times over to have one more conversation with him. But whenever I glance down and see it, it's like getting that thumbs up wave from him again. He was definitely the one and only, and he'll always be my number one.

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