Grandpa was a strong man who always wore his heart on his sleeve. He worked hard every day and after 30 years of employment at General Motors, he was forced to retire. That still did not stop him, he kept doing the things he loved, repairing and tinkering with all sorts of machinery and engines of all kinds. He would spend most of his day in his garage repairing things that the neighbors would need to fix. He was always tinkering with something, always on the go and his mind was constantly thinking of ways to improve something.

When I was a kid, he and I would play in the orchard between our houses together. He and I were glued to the hips and most people will tell you that I was Grandpa’s girl. Looking back, I remember him rescuing me out of the apple trees when I would climb too high and get too scared to climb down. My fondest memories of that time were Grandpa singing “Skip to My Lou, My Darlin” as he and I would skip through the orchard on my way home every night.

blackalzGrandpa always had a carefree, happy go lucky attitude and he attracted friends everywhere he went. I can’t ever remember him in a foul mood, he was by far, the happiest man I have ever known. On occasion, when my Grandma was ill, he would be a little down in the dumps and you could definitely tell he was worried to death about Grandma. My grandfather was not a good cook at all. In his defense, he was raised in a time period in which women were meant to do the cooking. I remember when Grandma would get sick, he would call on me to help make Grandma something to eat. I was barely able to see the top of the stove, but he would pull up a stool and I would do the only thing we knew how, macaroni and cheese. Grandma was sick for a week once and besides heating soup for her, grandpa and I ate Mac and cheese or his famous “putty” sandwiches, which consisted of peanut butter and syrup mixed together and smeared on two slices of bread. I will never forget the day my grandmother got to feeling better. She came out of her room dressed in her old blue robe and started cooking breakfast. She kept mumbling how she was getting sick to death of Mac and cheese and that’s when she began teaching me how to make real food.

Grandpa always had two items in his possession at all times, a pair of needle nose pliers and a pocket knife, which he always kept in the side pocket of his overalls. I have never seen my grandpa without a flannel shirt and his bib overalls on. Even on the hottest summer days, he still managed to wear that long sleeve flannel. He compromised by rolling the sleeves to three quarter length when it got too warm. He was a very modest man, to the point that he and grandma even slept in different rooms. On occasion you would hear him tiptoeing down the hall of the trailer and you knew he was looking for some lovin’ a few moments later you would hear Grandma yell “Harley get back in your bed”. Guess he didn’t get any those nights, poor guy.
Grandpa would drink his black coffee from the time he woke up till the time he went to bed. I believe that next to my grandma, coffee was his best friend. Grandma is his favorite, coffee being a close second, which would leave his “caddy” in third ranking on his favorites list! As far back as I can remember, my grandpa always drove a Cadillac. I remember getting in the car to go grocery shopping when I was little and the smell of cigarettes and vanilla air fresheners would fill your nostrils and make your stomach do somersaults. That had to be the worst combination of smells to ever endure for a thirty minute drive to the store. The ashtray was always full and running over on the floor and there was always a little sun faded air freshener hanging from the rear view mirror.

Our trips to the grocery store were always rewarding. Grandpa was always left to entertain me, which meant that we would wait out front of the store, out of grandma’s hair, while she took care of business. Grandpa would always let me climb on top of the little coin operated carousel and he would stick quarter after quarter in the machine. He would sing to me as the music played and finally, when he had nothing left in his pocket besides dryer lent, he would hoist me off the carousel and we would wait on the bench outside the store. From that bench he always told me the best stories, filled with life lessons and full of love.

Grandpa had many talents besides his mechanic skills, he was our local road grater, he grew the biggest garden in the county, and had a beautiful orchard filled with peach and apple trees, grapes and even strawberries. I remember him talking a lot on the CB when the weather was rough. His CB handle, Mull Skinner, will forever stick in my mind. I have always wondered how that name came about. I believe that is how most people contacted him when they were broke down or needing a tow, however, it was probably a cheap way to communicate in the country between the neighbors.

Grandpa was an all-around guy who held the world at his fingertips. He didn’t have much in material value, but emotionally he would reach out and grab you tightly with his soul. It wasn’t until I was nine that I started noticing a change in him, a change that would affect his life, as well as mine, forever…..