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Father of My Father

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I am blessed. My second grandson was born this month. His name is Noah. Like his older brother Caleb, he is perfect. People have told me for years that grandkids are different from your kids and they are right. I can’t speak for others, but my grandchildren are perfect.

Having two grandsons has caused me to spend a lot of time lately thinking about my grandfather, John Bert Moore. John was married to my grandmother, Allie and they had seven kids, two boys and five girls. My Dad, Gene Moore, was the younger of the two boys and fifth in birth order. John and Allie raised their family in a three room home at the corner of Matthew and Mulberry in Sesser, Illinois. The little home was only seven hundred square feet in total, not including the outhouse.

To me, as a young child, my grandfather seemed to be a giant of a man. The father of my father was bigger than life. We called him Pop. Like my grandsons now, to me, my grandfather was also perfect. John Moore was a big man. 6’2”, 250 lbs. He made his living and supported his family as a coal miner and farmer. He mined the coal for income, when the mines were operating, but farmed his little piece of land and raised pigs to feed the Moore clan. The food we know as organic today, my grandparents … well, they just called it food.

When I was seven years old, Pop bought me a pony. As an adult, I’ve since learned that all the grandkids thought he bought it for them … “but me and my Pop” … we knew the truth. I didn’t mind letting the others think of my pony as theirs. Pop and I kept the fact that the pony was mine our secret. Dynamite was his name. He was a little black and white Shetland pinto pony.  Pop would saddle him, pick me up and place me in the saddle and lead me around the barn. For a while, I was Davy Crockett “King of the Wild Frontier.” I always felt so loved by my grandparents, but my Pop … he always paid special attention to me.

Pop wore “OshKosh b’Gosh” bib overalls every day. On Sundays for church, he wore them with a white shirt and tie. When I was five, he bought a little pair of denim overalls just like his for me. Every day for Thanksgiving  week, while we were visiting, he would wake me up  at 5:00 AM. I would put on my bibs, just like Pop. He would hand me a little plastic bucket and we would walk out to the barn and we would talk. He would fill his big galvanized bucket with coal and put a few of the black rocks in my bucket. We’d walk back into the house and dump the coal into the furnace so the house would be warm when the others awoke. It was my favorite time of day with Pop. He would start cooking breakfast and we would continue to talk about anything and everything. I wish I could remember what he said. Since the births of Caleb and Noah, I have thought a lot about my time with Pop.

Pop, a man who never finished grade school, gave me my first lesson in economics. One day while walking on a gravel road, I was shuffling my feet in the rocks and dust. Pop stopped, stooped down to my eye level and said, “Your Dad works very hard to take care of you and your family. He worked hard to buy those shoes on your feet. If you keep dragging them through the gravel, you are going to ruin them. Your Dad won’t complain or be mad at you, but he will have to work harder and longer to buy a new pair. Let’s help him out by not ruining them.” He smiled and hugged me, then we began walking again. I have never forgotten the lesson.

Now that I am a grandfather, I understand. I didn’t realize how my grandfather felt about me then, but now, I know. Pop loved me with a love I still feel today and I miss him more now, forty-four years after his death than ever before. I want him to know, that I now understand how much he loved me and that I still think of him today. I wish I could introduce him to Arlene and our children, and of course my grandsons.

While writing this, I’m trying to figure out how many times in my life I actually saw Pop. The number I came up with is less than thirty. It does not seem possible to me, but I know it is true. I keep trying to make it more. I want it to be more, but it is not. Each visit was usually a week but sometimes a weekend. Not enough time. I wish as a child I would have known … could have known … how to cherish each and every moment with my grandparents. I now know they cherished every minute with me.

Pop died early in 1968 of “black lung disease,” a form of emphysema that is common among those who go deep into the ground to mine the coal. Pop was seventy-seven. I was thirteen. At his wake, I stood by his casket for hours, not showing any emotion. It was the first time I ever saw him without bib overalls. He was wearing a suit. I didn’t feel sad because it didn’t seem like him. But as the funeral home was closing in the evening, my dad walked up and put his arm around me and said it was time to go. I suddenly began crying almost uncontrollably. I think it just hit me that it was my Pop laying there and he was gone. I cried myself to sleep that night.

Fortunately Arlene and I live only fifty miles from Caleb and Noah. We see them weekly, but even then, it’s not enough. I want Caleb and Noah to know how much I love them but I know they cannot. Not until they experience their grandchildren someday. Then, maybe they will think of me and remember how I looked at them … how I held them … and the lessons I will try to teach them. I pray they are both blessed with children and grandchildren someday. Then, they will know how much I loved them and they will remember and smile.

Caleb and Noah’s Pappa,

Gary