(Editor’s note: Throwback Thursday. This post originally appeared on an old blog site in 2015. Today it appears in memory of my grandfather whose birthday was April 11, 1919.)
Maybe it is an age thing because I’ve now lived long enough for them to seem major.
Seems they lurk everywhere I turn these days. Ten year work anniversary. Twenty-five years since college graduation. And this week – the twentieth anniversary of my grandfather’s death.
Miles Robert Gregory was born on April 11, 1919, and died July 23rd, 1995. In between, he married Louise Scales, toured Europe in the early 1940’s courtesy of the United States government, and then worked as a mechanic for the South Carolina National Guard for 30 years, until retiring in 1977.
After retiring, he and my grandmother did a lot of sightseeing around the United States. One of my favorite souvenirs from their journeys was a white Key West t-shirt with a large pink setting sun on the front. I’m sure my classmates in the early eighties grew tired of seeing it, though.
My brother and I called our grandfather Papa. With our southern accents, it sounded more like PawPaw.
The Magic Box
Despite possible encounters with another grandparent’s ghost, I really don’t believe the deceased reach out to us from beyond the grave. At least not in a supernatural sort of way. However, my grandfather has reached out to me on in another way through the Magic Box.
When Miles passed away, in addition to a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver, I inherited most of his tools and some miscellaneous yard equipment. There weren’t many tools, just a few tool boxes with an assortment of screwdrivers and wrenches and a couple of power tools.
Along with the tools came a small metal box, about 10 inches wide by eight inches tall and 6 inches deep. The box has fifteen plastic drawer bins full of small screws, washers, nuts, and bolts. What would I ever need this for? I wondered at the time, but I took it anyway.
Turns out, I have needed it many times. On several occasions when making small, impromptu repairs (usually late at night when the hardware store is closed) I’ve needed an odd size screw or bolt. And most of the time, this Magic Box has come through for me. I wander down to my workshop, slip past the semi-abandoned Jeep restoration project and search through the bins. Voila, the right part. Thanks, Papa, I usually say out loud.
Back to the age thing. Miles had one feature that made him look older than he really was – his white hair. As a kid, I guess you think all your grandparents are old, because, well, compared to you, they are. But the white hair made it seem worse.
Miles was just short of forty-nine years old when I was born. Now that I’m darn close to that mark, I certainly don’t see that as old! I pay closer attention to pictures of him in the old family photo albums, comparing our features. I see that by age fifty, his hair was already white.
I often wonder if or when my hair will turn white since my genetics seem to align more closely with Papa’s side of the family tree. There is certainly evidence that it is on the way, but I didn’t live through World War II, so maybe not. My mother’s hair eventually turned white, too, but she had my brother to deal with. However, my mother-in-law does live with us now, and I’m about to have a teenage daughter. My turn might not be far away.
One last word on milestones. This month marks fourteen years since I brought home what is perhaps my Waterloo Jeep project – restoring a 1950 Willys CJ-3A. With virtually no progress in the last eight to nine years, I suppose one could argue it is a common law failure. But one of the reasons I just can’t bring myself to admit defeat and sell it for parts is this picture:
This is my grandfather and mother posing in a rare South Carolina snow storm in 1960. Mom is around sixteen years old in this picture.
My old Jeep is the civilian version of this Army Jeep. When my daughter was born a few years after I started the rebuild, I had visions of recreating this photo with her at sixteen with a finished Jeep.
Well, after fourteen years, I still have a long ways to go and about a five-year deadline looming. I sure could use an old timer Jeep mechanic to coach me to the finish. Who knows, maybe some of Papa’s old tools have a bit of magic left in them, too.
I miss you, Papa.
PS. An update on 4/10/19. A lot has changed in my life since I wrote this almost four years ago. Age 50 is now in the rearview mirror. The job I referenced…gone. Left the country. The mother-in-law I mentioned…gone. Passed away unexpectedly in February of this year. The daughter…now 15 with a driver’s permit. Turns out she’ll be driving a Jeep soon, but not my Willys project. The Willys hasn’t changed…still sitting unfinished in the garage. The magic box…still works. Used it a few weeks ago working on on the lawnmower. Thanks again, Papa. Happy birthday.