Sunday, July 31, 2005

Paul Jones, 1922-2005

I was going to write about my weekend, but life got in the way.

When the call came in from Arkansas, I knew what it was. Of course, I’ve been “knowing” for nearly two months, and, sooner or later, that feeling was going to be right. I wish I could have gone on being wrong a little longer.

My grandpa passed away on Saturday, just a little shy of his eighty-third birthday. My father tells me that it was as painless and peaceful as anyone could hope for--and for that I’m grateful.

Some of the last words he spoke to me, just a few weeks ago, were to tell me how lucky he was to have the best grandson in the world. It made me cry, knowing that it wasn’t true, more thankful than I can tell you that he actually believed it. I wish I had lived up to it, especially in these last months.

From the family farm in Kansas to a chicken farm in Colorado Springs and then to his job as a meter reader, he was never wealthy and he never had the chance to experience many of life’s luxuries. But his life was still filled with his family and his love of Colorado--it’s a pity that the last few years robbed him of his health and his ability to even take trips to the mountains. In fact, these last few years were brutally cruel to him. He handled health problems and difficulties with more grace than most people could manage.

I remember as a boy taking walks with him along some of Colorado’s abandoned railroad lines. He loved trains almost as much as he loved his restored John Deere tractor. The walks were quiet as he wasn’t much of a talker. For him, it was the time together that mattered.

Maybe my happiest memory of him is so simple that it could almost be a snapshot. When I was a boy, I would sometimes stay the night with my grandparents. When the summer nights were cool, we would sit on the front porch with my grandma and me on a squeaky wood swing. My grandpa would sit on the stone wall around the porch while my grandma told stories and hugged me. Grandpa was in heaven at moments like that. Just sitting there with the people he loved, knowing that the world was all right, was enough for him to be happy.

The last time I went back and saw that porch swing, I was amazed at how flimsy it looked. I don’t know if it grew fragile with time or if it was always that frail and I just didn’t notice.

It hurt Saturday, and I was glad to be with my girlfriend away from home. I was glad I didn’t have to deal with familiar surroundings and that there was someone there who cared about how I felt. The people who have the biggest affect on our lives often don’t know the extent of their influence.

Shortly after I was booted out of the Army, I took refuge from the world in my grandparent’s basement. I was young and confused and desperately in need of direction. He didn’t have answers for me, but he did have the generosity of spirit to give me a place to stay while I regrouped and prepared myself for life. He was shelter and safety when I was in need.

During those last few years of his life, he spent his money and his energy to help his wife and kids. It was completely selfless--without hope of any benefit for him and with little thought to his own comfort or health. He just wanted his family to be okay.

He was a good man. He certainly wasn’t wealthy, he wasn’t the worldliest, and he wasn’t perfect. But he was a good man. I will miss his quiet presence, his faith, his sly sense of humor, and his caring.

My world is smaller today.


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