Grandpa Smith (1926-2017)

Grandpa Smith (1926-2017)

I woke up to the sun peaking through the curtains and Grandpa Smith pulling at my toes. I could see him smile as my eyes began to focus, as he headed back downstairs I got ready for the day’s adventure; every day with Grandpa Smith was an adventure.

I could smell the bacon before I reached the top step. Early mornings on the Smith Farm are where I learned to appreciate crispy bacon. Breakfast was often accompanied by a bowl of my favorite cereal.

After a quick breakfast, we headed out to the semi, which was already loaded and running. Grandpa had a variety of trucks over the years, but this one had his name painted on the side. I climbed up the side of the truck, struggled to get the door open, and pulled myself into the heated cab. Grandpa reminded me to pull hard on the door to make sure it shut all the way, then we were on the road.

This day, we were hauling a load of corn to the Staley plant. Staley didn’t allow riders. So, Grandpa told me that I’d have to hide in the truck’s sleeper the entire time we were on their property. Grandpa told me that since we weren’t hauling a dump trailer or a hopper bottom, that the entire semi would be raised on a platform to dump the corn.

Once we got to our destination, I hid in the sleeper. After a while the truck stopped and Grandpa got out. I laid down and waited for the truck to raise. It rose, and rose, and rose some more as I rolled all the way to the back of the sleeper. If you’ve never seen how high one of those lifts can go, do a search for “semi dump lift.”

Once the truck was empty and lowered back to the ground, Grandpa got back in and made sure I was still in one piece, then we headed back to the Smith Farm for another load of corn.

Mealtimes were also an adventure with Grandpa. I remember one evening when we all sat at the oval table in the kitchen. I was sitting across from Grandma while Grandpa sat at the head of the table. I don’t remember what we had for dinner that night, but Grandpa ate a jar of hot peppers.

The scene went something like this:

INT. Smith Farm House – Night

Grandparents are sitting down to have dinner with their grandson.

GRANDPA, nudges an open jar of hot peppers toward his grandson.

GRANDSON, has a concerned look on his face.

You want some of these?

Of course he doesn’t want any of those. Stop trying to get people to eat those things.

Oh, okay.

A few minutes later

GRANDPA, nudges the jar toward his grandson.

You want some of these?

Scene repeats.

The man was relentless, and a master at playing dumb.

After dinner, we’d watch The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, this was the only time of day I ever saw Grandpa sit still for more than a few minutes. When Carson was over, we’d catch the weather forecast, then it was off to bed so we could wake up at dawn and start all over again.

Grandma and Grandpa Smith, Christmas Eve 1993

During one of my summer visits to the Smith Farm, Grandpa and Grandma took me on an impromptu overnight trip to SeaWorld in Ohio. My favorite thing about the park was feeding the dolphins. After making our rounds at the park that day, Grandma asked if I wanted to ride the roller coaster or go back and feed the dolphins again. I said I wanted to feed the dolphins. Years later, Grandma still loved telling people how she had never seen Grandpa dig money out of his pockets so fast to pay for fish. I guess he didn’t want to ride that roller coaster either.

As an adult, I got a job that required me to drive a semi on occasion. Despite years of riding in semis with Grandpa, I’d never learned to drive one. Grandpa had already retired from the trucking business by that point, so we borrowed one from a friend who lived about 15 miles away down a road full of twists and turns. In true Grandpa Smith fashion, he asked me to get behind the wheel and drive the semi down the narrow curvy road back to the Smith Farm. That was how Grandpa taught me to drive a semi.

Grandma and Grandpa Smith, Christmas Eve 2002

There were no short visits with Grandpa. Even if I’d been out all day, hauling things with one of his “loaner” trucks, and was already late for dinner, I’d find myself sitting on the couch and chatting away while petting the dog (there was always a dog). Eventually, I’d pull myself from the couch (and the dog) and make my way outside. Grandpa would be in tow, continuing our conversation. Once in my vehicle and ready to leave, I would find myself unable to do so as Grandpa would often lean on the vehicle, talking to me through an open window. Sometimes, he’d rub a clean spot on the side of my door with his thumb. When I got home, I would find the reminder of our conversation on the side of my door.

In 2007 my wife and I found ourselves needing a place to stay while we were between houses. Grandpa and Grandma came to the rescue and we spent a memorable month on the Smith Farm.

My wife, Lacy, loves bird-watching; one day she was laying out on the grass watching the gathering vultures circle above her. Grandpa saw this and went outside to see if Lacy was okay. When she explained that she just enjoyed watching the vultures fly and commented on how beautiful and graceful they are, Grandpa just said, “Okay,” and walked back to the house. That evening Grandma told Lacy that Grandpa, “sure gets a kick out you.” She also told Lacy that she likes watching the vultures fly too.

During our stay, Grandpa wanted to wash and repaint parts of his old Case tractor for an upcoming tractor show. After I went to work for the day, Lacy and Grandpa scrubbed the tractor and touched up the paint. Grandpa thought it was good enough, but Lacy was still finding spots and touching them up. Afterward, Grandpa told Grandma, “She sure isn’t lazy.” I’m really glad that Lacy got to know them so well during this time.

Grandpa’s charity knew no bounds. He didn’t talk about his charitable deeds often, but one time he told us about a widow whose house was being auctioned off. He showed up and bought the house at the auction, then sold it back to her for the same amount he paid for it. Over the years, I’ve heard many similar stories from other people he has helped.

Liliana with her Great-Grandpa Smith, September 2012

My daughter is four-years-old at the time of this writing and in the few years since her birth she’s already lost three great-grandparents and one grandparent. I wish she’d gotten more years to get to know her now departed family members and I wish they had more time to get to know her, but I know she’ll hear plenty about them, especially her Great-Grandpa Smith.


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