It has been a year ago today since you left us and I find it hard to believe that you have been gone even that long already. Time has not slowed down; if anything, it has moved even quicker than before, each month melting into the next like ice cream melting on a hot summer day and even that makes me remember how much you used to lament the hot Georgia summer and how happier you always seemed when the cool weather would finally arrive. I remember how you enjoyed watching the maple trees that you brought down as saplings from Vermont some sixty-odd years ago as they went through their metamorphosis each year, trading the green of spring and summer for the brilliant shades of orange and amber that autumn would bring. Your trees were like children that you raised and nourished, giving not only joy to you but to all those who travelled the highway by your home these many decades.
I miss our car trips up the Blue Ridge Parkway and through the Great Smokey Mountains and the memories they have given me, of lakes in the Tennessee Valley; of expansive vistas we could see only from the heights of those great peaks; of family meals at places like LaPrade’s, the Deer Lodge and the Dillard House; of snickering in the backseat as you and my grandfather would bicker and argue about every landmark you passed and what year something of importance happened there and of just spending time listening to both of you.
I miss how you would show up at our house sometimes with surprises like a toy dog on a leash that would walk itself or a candy bar and then you would take me home with you for the weekend. I miss our trips to the family cemeteries to clean and spruce up the graves of the ones you loved that had gone on before you and how you taught me the history of my family, what they meant to you and why they were significant to me. I remember the pride you had in your parents and your grandparents and the generations before them that settled this part of Georgia and whose roots are deep and strong.
I miss our Sunday afternoon dinners at your house and the intoxicating aroma of homemade biscuits warming in the oven and the savory flavor of pot roast cooking on the stove; the sweetness of your iced tea and the buttery flavor of your pound cake that was “not fit to eat” in your own words but was good to everyone else that was fortunate enough to have some. Our family grew large and sometimes we scattered in many different directions but your Sunday meals served to draw us all back together, at least one day of the week to catch up with each other and to be a family in the way you understood family to be. We were loud at times and we argued at times but we wouldn’t have traded Sunday for anything.
I miss your bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches that you always made for me during vegetable season and I have yet to taste a tomato that comes close to the ones my grandfather planted and that you picked ripe off the vine for that special treat I loved. I miss the beautiful roses you grew and the care you gave them, knowing just when to select one to take to a special friend in need of some cheer. Most of all I miss the friend that you were to me and the special interest you always took in my life.
Life has gone on without your physical presence but our memories of you are strong and your influence is never far away. Your great-grandson is growing up fast and is already taller than you would remember him to be. Tomorrow he will start the second grade and you would be so proud of how smart he is in math and how strong-willed he can be, a trait he shares with you. I’m glad that he remembers you so well and that your memory will live on with him. Your house is quiet now, the pictures of your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are frozen in time upon the long bookshelves; the oven is cold, the piano is still, the chime of the clock is silent and the pendulum swings no more; but outside, your arboreal legacy, of towering maples and broad ginkgos ready themselves for another encore performance that will debut in the weeks ahead and I will see them and know that I see them because of the work of your hands.
To my Grandfather Wilson:
Fifteen years today have passed since you left us suddenly after such a long and fruitful lifetime but you live on in our memories and in our hearts, your influence still felt and your lessons as timely as they always were. Fifteen years bring a lot of change to a family but it also brings a lot of additions and you would be proud of the three great-grandchildren that you knew before you died and the three that came afterward, one of which shares your name.
You were never given to idleness and those rare moments when you stopped your work to enjoy the fruits of your labor are times that I treasure because you gave that time to us all. I remember so many visits when we would sit in chairs under the open carport, enjoying the roses that my grandmother tended while sitting just feet away from the only concession to your success that you would give in to; a shiny Cadillac, usually a new one every year, clean and gleaming brightly with chrome. You would sit and tell stories of your past, of losing brothers and sisters to illness in days when medicine was scarce; of a Great Depression and how wasting anything was something you could not tolerate; of working long hours in hard conditions so that you could give your family so much more than you had but never realizing that in you, we had the greatest gift of all.
You taught me about your life and in doing so, you taught me many lessons about how it should be lived and how every day should be treated as the gift it was. You were usually a serious man who hid a brilliant sense of humor and I always enjoyed those moments when you laughed heartily or when you told a joke, usually far away from the ears of my grandmother. You always knew your audience because you were such a good judge of character. Honesty and integrity were the cornerstones that you built your life on and you laid some good foundations for the rest of us too.
You loved your family and you loved life in general and you put as much of yourself into both as you could. It makes me proud today that years after you left this earth, your famous barbecue and your father’s wonderful Brunswick stew can still be found, just as you made it and served in four different cities in Georgia. I cannot smell hickory smoke or bite into a tasty barbecue sandwich or even peel an onion without thinking about you and the business that you built and through which you live on in many people’s lives.
I miss our long talks we would have when you would get in the car with me to go for a ride after you and grandmother had one of your famous spats over something inconsequential but I saw the love you had for her and that she had for you, despite both your best efforts to hide that. I guess your generation felt such things were a private matter but you both let it slip sometimes and I treasured those moments that reaffirmed what I always suspected about you both. You were much the same way with your grandchildren, yet the kind of love you gave is the kind that endures and that we all have wonderful memories of.
I miss our Thursday afternoon lunch at Buckner’s when you would pick me up in your old Chevy pickup truck and we would go and dine with complete strangers, sharing a meal and conversation with people you likely would never see again but making sure that they saw only the good qualities of southern charm and hospitality. I miss picking your plums and muscadines right off the vine, cracking pecans from your trees and how pretty much anything you planted was something wonderful to eat. These simple things are remembered far more and for much longer than any physical object you may have given to me.
I wish my son could have known you the way that I knew you but eight years had passed between the time you left us and the time he arrived here. Despite your absence in his life, you are with him because I have always tried to make sure that through me and my memories of you, that he would come to know you too. A picture of you hangs on my mother’s refrigerator, taken almost eighty years ago, one of you and several other young men and boys, wearing a baseball uniform and ready to play a sport that you loved your entire lifetime. My son knows this picture well and you would be proud of a bond you both share in the love of that game.
To Both of You:
You were and you remain to this day special people in my life and you left me with more memories than I could ever possibly write about. You were both there for me whenever I needed you and your strength made me stronger, your wisdom made me hopefully a bit wiser and your lessons made me see life in different ways and appreciate it more. I was fortunate to have you both for as long as I did and even though neither of you walk this earth anymore, I am surrounded by things that remind me of you and every now and then, I discover a new truth in something you may have said many years ago. Today, I remember both of you and what a difference your time here made in my life.
Always, your Grandson
For GWC, August 7, 1996
For DWC, August 7, 2010