My Grandpa lit up a room with his warm smile. I was delighted to observe how people naturally swarmed to him. Everyone knew Bob. He was the quintessential gentleman in a suit and tie and camel trench coat, smelling faintly of aftershave and peppermints. His facial features were large, even though he was not.
His heart was magnificent.
No wonder Grandpa was a successful salesman. He was deeply good with people, and that was his golden charm. He could not cook, (Bob cannot even boil water, moaned my grandmother, phone cord stretched to a fare-thee-well as she gossiped to her friends while stirring dinner) nor was he handy with household repairs, relying heavily on duct tape to patch things up.
He puttered at the local hardware store many Saturday mornings, looking dapper in his weekend jeans and Ivy hat. Grandpa was there for conversation, purchasing tools he would never use, in order to Give the fellows some friendly business, Kristin.
He served by way of conversation. Direct and graciously honest, he dismantled all smoke and mirrors with plain speech, seeking others out, inquiring about their interests, meeting them right where they were, always abounding in friendly care. (Once, while he and Grandma were visiting our church, he noted our pastor’s threadbare sports coat, his keen eyes traveling the row of endless children in this minister’s family. Grandpa spent the next day hatching a plan to quietly assimilate the necessary measurements in order to purchase two brand new suites. Which he did, delivered anonymously, so as not to embarrass. I was sworn to secrecy, and kept my promise, beaming at the magnanimity of my grandfather.)
Grandpa was winsome: his inherent ability to connect with others was magical. He was popular with others mainly because he never tried to be.
There you are, his eyes spoke kindly, offering me, his shy granddaughter, an arm, treating me like royalty as we entered church, or a store, or a restaurant.
If Grandpa had one besetting sin it was his quick temper, which was utterly forgivable, seeing that it soared only to defend his loved ones. He seemed incapable of nursing a grudge and was quick to forgive.
Once, when I was an infant, visiting Grandpa’s and Grandma’s church, my mother dropped me off in the large nursery prior to the service. The sermon was scarcely over when Grandpa hot-footed it to retrieve me, eager to show off his only granddaughter.
The nursery attendant, who knew my grandparents quite well, refused to hand me over the half-door.
Rules are rules, Bob. We may only return her to the person who dropped her off.
He was livid.
But I am her grandfather!
The woman raised an eyebrow but would not budge.
Grandpa’s eyes widened, as they always did when he meant business. He swirled through the crowd in a huff, tracking down my mother. After a few minutes, his temper melted to reason, and he circled back to the nursery attendant to thank her and to apologize for his ire.
You were only doing your job, and I see now that Kristin is quite safe in our nursery.
It was endearing how quickly he recognized his wrongs.
Safety through protection remained his native tongue, love in the highest form. He shielded me from things like a creepy cousin, an unusual great-grandfather, and even from my own despair.
One year, when I was at the tender age of eleven, that uncomfortable time in a child’s life where everything feels in between and awkward, my aunt announced that she was going to forge her way into the hair cutting industry.
She was flush with ideas that typically fizzled, given time. She was going to become a concert pianist, an accomplished cook, an artist who painted and stenciled cloth bags, and then a professional Christmas crafter. But nothing stuck. I felt her pulsing unsteadiness. She was the mother of two sons and zero daughters, which remained a cosmic sticking point in our family tree. Desperately pining for a daughter, I felt her tracing my movements, eyes narrowed. I was that sore, perpetual reminder of what she lacked. It felt oppressive, as though I had done something dreadful.
To this day, I do not understand why I was allowed to be her hair-cutting victim. I have a few theories, but whatever the actual reasons, I knew I did not want her touching my hair, which in my opinion was far too short already. In fact, I was desperately trying to grow my hair longer before middle school. No matter. I was instructed to ascend the chair, and allow my aunt to practice her newly-discovered passion.
I was her first and last client.
I remember looking down, past the black cape draped over my shoulders, beyond my flip-flops, at the impossible inches of straight blonde clippings scattered upon the kitchen floor. I felt tears welling, seeing the clear evidence that it was now too late.
It will be a cold day in July before she cuts Kristin’s hair again, my father muttered to my mother on our way home, which was no consolation whatsoever. It was done, and I walked into my bedroom and stared in the mirror, gasping. My hair was jagged and gone.
The next week, I followed my mother into a local market, and the woman behind the counter smiled at me as she totaled our produce, before asking my mother if her son wanted to carry the grocery bags.
I sat in the car, numb, the entire ride home. This isn’t happening, This isn’t happening, This isn’t happening.
Once home, I slipped off to the bathroom and hovered over the edge of the tub, sobbing while covering my mouth to keep quiet, feeling ugly and hopeless and quite helpless.
When Grandpa found out what had happened at the market, he hit the roof, eyes bugging out.
She said what to my beautiful granddaughter? Is she blind? You are the prettiest girl in town. I am going there tomorrow to set her straight.
Once he settled down, he found me. Just wait until you are sixteen. I will be fighting the boys off with a crowbar.
He smiled. And your hair will grow back soon.
What he meant was: There you are, no matter what.
I felt a spark of hope. Grandpa never lied, and he still cared, regardless of my outward appearance. His belief, measured futuristically, illuminated a path out of my current state. It was a promise to cling to, a promise which carried me through.
The next weekend, he and Grandma whisked me off to the mall. Grandpa steered me through Jordan Marsh, plunking clothes on the sales counter as he opened his wallet and expanded my wardrobe with purple and pink.
Of course he did. I see now that it was the only thing that could be done to restore my femininity until my hair had time to grow.
There you are.
The future felt lighter, brighter as we returned to their home on Washington Street, and I unpacked my bags, swirling in front of the mirror like a ballerina. Grandpa made everything sparkle.
My hair eventually grew back, and I made it to sixteen. The boys came calling, just as Grandpa had promised, and he met each date, except the one whose last name I stole.
One frigid January evening, my sophomore year in college, a mere seven months before I met my future husband, our dorm room phone rang ominously. Grandpa’s painful battle with cancer was over. I only remember crying, the phone cord pulled into my dorm hallway as I doubled over on the shiny floor. I have no memory of flying home for the service, nor do I recall the funeral itself. It is the internment I remember, the silent cry that rose in my throat as I dropped to my knees on the frost-covered ground, weeping as they sprinkled his casket with dirt.
He is with God now, everyone said, meaning to comfort. But at age nineteen, all I longed for was one more afternoon to spend with Grandpa.
As it goes, memories of him, seasoned with time, are sweet, thirty years later. I am surprised to remember so much happiness; the measure of his kindnesses, his selflessness, his love. His grandfatherly instincts were unique, stemming from his strong faith in God.
Not everyone has parents or grandparents who model the heart of God the Father. But rest assured, if you are in Christ, then God has chosen you, regardless of appearance, or intelligence, or social status.
You are his beloved.