Granddaddy and Keeping it Real

August 6, 2014

“A man who denies his past is a man who truly denies himself a future, for he refuses to know himself, and to deny knowledge of oneself is to stumble through life as handicapped as the blind mute.” 

By the time that I was born, Granddaddy was getting older.  He was 66 when I came into the world and we were immediately best friends.  He retired in 1977 against his will, kicking and screaming. He was 71 that year and it was time.

Always an amateur gardener, he took gardening to a new level once he retired.  We had banana trees with baby bananas on them by the pool and there was a pomegranate bush underneath Grandmother's window.  Mind you, all of this was years before pomegranates were en vogue as a super fruit.

Granddaddy's apple trees were my first example of rhythmic design, and they grew in two rows behind the banana bushes.  By June, they were loaded with tiny crab apple fruit that Bigmama would peel and cook in butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon when she was visiting.  There were rows of pear trees, blueberry bushes, plum, and peach trees.  My Granddaddy created his own Eden in the midst of flat, hot, south Alabama and turned the ten acres that defined his yard into a veritable outdoor marketplace.

We would pick plums warmed by the sun and have the juice running down our chins. When I was with him, manners flew out of the window.  I could slurp and make all of the gross noises that I wanted as long as my Grandmother wasn't around.  He taught me to drive when I was eleven,  and I was allowed to drive his car back and forth to my house that was three miles away-  all by myself.

He called me "Boy" until he died.  I was twenty-eight when he passed.  I had been married, divorced, given birth, and still, to him, my name was "Boy".

I spent a lot of time helping him tend to fruit trees and grapevines, fertilizing them, pruning and picking them.   I probably learned more during those days about who he was than any other time I spent with him.  Granddaddy had an unquestionable work ethic. He would work you in the dirt, but only after 11 a.m., never during the Walter Cronkite news hour from 5-6 p.m, and then again from 6 p.m. until dark.

I believe his penchant for acquiring 8-10 hours of sleep per night is why he lived so long, in spite of the abuse that he did to his body in his younger years running a hospital and rarely sleeping.  I never remember him doing much before 10 a.m. other than eating the Raisin Bran Grandmother put out at his placemat every day.  Every morning, Grandmother would arise and head down the hall in her satin peignoir set. She always had the most beautiful pajamas. As she sacheted down the hall with the grace and presence of  a 1940's Hollywood movie star,  she was glamorous. She still is everything that can be defined as glamour.

Once the coffee was perking, Grandmother made Granddaddy's cereal and put it at his place at the table.  Like clock work, she would go back to her dressing room and put on her face for the day, while leaving his cereal to soak for at least thirty minutes (he had a hernia). I know, gross, but that's how he rolled for breakfast.  After over forty years of marriage, my Grandfather never saw my Grandmother a single morning without her hair and makeup.  She never emerged for anyone to see her before her "face was on".

She would emerge a picture of perfection, and he might or might not change out of his pajamas all day long. When Granddaddy was practicing medicine, there were many days that he went to work in his pajamas. Pajamas weren't a far cry from scrubs, were they?  Granddaddy believed in comfort and marching to his own drum- and he marched to his own drum better than anyone I know.

He always had time for me and I spent many days sitting on his desk with a prescription pad learning to write my name, while "helping him" with patients.  He was Dr. Holley, and I was "Dr. Holly". Granddaddy did exactly what he wanted, exactly the way that he wanted to do it, and apologized to no man for the methods to his madness.  He was an inventor,  a genius- who had an obsession with quantum physics, and believed that a perpetual motion machine could be invented. He was constantly working on  his "wheel".  I believe that if he had lived long enough to truly enjoy the miracle of the internet, he could have solved the energy crisis by defying the laws of physics.

I can remember patients coming from hundreds of miles away to see him.  They would sign in at the small waiting room and sit in their cars in the driveway at my Grandparents' home.  Sometimes Granddaddy would see seventy patients in one day.  All of those people, in their cars with picnics waited in the cold or heat to get in to spend ten minutes with him.  Unlike today's general physicians, mired in malpractice insurance and regulations, he gave of himself freely and never charged for office visits, only for procedures.  If a patient couldn't pay, he saw them anyway.  Granddaddy's mission was to provide care to everyone, regardless of their financial situation.

Back then, people who couldn't pay would bring vegetables, chickens, pigs, goats, cows, you name it!  Most of the furniture that I had when I started out was from people who brought furniture to pay their bills.  He would tell his patients that he didn't want their bedroom furniture or trinkets, and they would drop it off in the yard anyway and leave it with a note because that is just how country people were back then.  There was this one particular wash stand that had been a poor, country lady's prized possession.  She had died owing my Grandfather for a procedure.  When she passed, her husband showed up with that wash stand and said that it was her dying wish for Dr. Holley to have that piece of furniture for all that he had done for her.  That piece of furniture is probably still at the farm today.

Granddaddy struggled with many things in this life. He lost his father when he was fairly young and had to drop out of high school for a year and run the family's drug store. His mother died when he was in his fifties and I know that he always missed her. He suffered from milk leg that was a result of some kind of fever he had as a teenager. During the war years, he was one of the only doctors in town, and kept the hospital running.  He rarely slept and carried a huge burden for my hometown until the other doctors returned from WWII.

What Granddaddy didn't struggle with was his faith.  He knew the Bible backward and forward and shared with me from every page.  I think we probably read it through at least twice together.  He was consumed with end times prophecy and had me convinced that the world was going to end in 1985.  Because of his faith, I think that Granddaddy had an unwavering ability to keep it real.  Dr. Holley never mixed words much.  If you didn't want to know how he felt, you probably shouldn't have asked. If he thought you were heading to hell in a hand basket, he would tell you, and and then share the love and forgiveness of Christ.

Jehovah's Witnesses met their match in my Grandfather.  He LOVED for a JW to visit the house. The conversation always began with "I tell you what, I will listen to your Watch Tower business, but only after you let me share my Jesus with you."  He beat them down to a point that most of them conceded that he was correct because he could match them verse for verse and trump whatever they said. They finally stopped sending people to our house.  I think they lost too many members. Later in life, I met a really nice guy who was a Jehovah's Witness and I just couldn't date him because I knew that I would win every argument that we ever had about religion.  I had seen this movie and truly had an unfair advantage.

I missed him today terribly.  There are so many things that I want to share with him, so many questions that I want to ask him.  I want to tell him that his great-grandson Paul looks exactly like him, and that his grandson, Nicholas, has his sense of humor and is maybe the funniest little boy that I have ever met.  I hope he knows that his granddaughter, Camille, is a math wizard and is what he would've looked like as a girl, and that my daughter, Mary Catherine, just graduated from nursing school and finally SOMEONE went into medicine!  I wonder if he knows that his granddaughter, Danielle, is a special education teacher who has the patience of a saint and that she truly is called to do beautiful things and that her brother Trey is going to be a physical therapist and is a healer as well. I wonder if he knows that my stepchildren are working on their doctorates in cellular biology? He would be so proud of all of our children.  I think of the strawberry milkshakes (with ice cream in them, as he would say) that we drank, and the Monte Cristos that we smoked (while hiding from my Grandmother), and all of the hours that I danced on his feet to Frank Sinatra and Guy Lombardo, and I long for those days.  And I truly, truly hope that his version of heaven is right and that one day we get to dance in our pajamas together again.

1 comment:

Proudly designed by Mlekoshi playground