Growing up, my grandfather helped our family a lot, in spite of the fact that he didn’t like the behavior of me or my sister. As children, my sister and I were not raised to be seen and not heard. Instead, we spoke back to adults and told people what we thought about anything. We also weren’t very good at sitting in a restaurant and being quiet while the adults conversed. At one point, he told my mom that he wouldn’t take us to a restaurant again unless we learned to behave.
In the mid-1980s, he helped my family move out of the projects. We went to live with my aunt in a house in Oregon. After a drunk black man was shot across the street from us, mom had decided it was time to go. (You can read an account of the story in “My Life in the Projects.”) Grandpa helped me get my first car, and one summer, I went to stay with him for a couple of weeks. He outworked me hauling wood, showed me his human side when we were at Arby’s, and ate liver and onions with his neighbor across the road.
When I got back from the Peace Corps, Grandpa was having some medical issues and needed some help. Since I had readjustment money, I stayed with him for a couple of weeks. It was then I learned that my grandpa’s opinion of me had changed. Sure, he had always loved me, but now, he approved of me. He introduced me to one of his friends by saying, “This is my grandson, Shad. He’s a lifelong student, and that’s okay.”
We went to my sister’s wedding together. My mom rented us a hotel room and said that we should both stay in it. Aside from the Grandpa’s health, he was always cold. He kept the thermostat up high. That was fine by me. I had returned from Africa to face Oregon’s winter, and I was always cold. Grandpa and I got into the hotel room and turned the thermostat up. We had that room up to 80 degrees, and it felt great.
I helped out a little more over the summer, and then I had to get a job. I went to Kalamazoo to see a couple of friends and got a job working at the Red Cross as a CPR coordinator. When grandpa died, I got the call at work. I told my boss and went to the back room to clean mannequins. There I cried, but I knew I had the best gift I could ever have from Grandpa. I had his love, I had his approval, and I had spent more time with him than many people take to spend with their loved ones.