My grandfather died when I was 16 years old. Seven years ago, yesterday, to be exact.
Today would have been his 85th birthday.
In honor of him and the amazing, wonderful man that he was, I’ve decided to share something I wrote about him a year or so after his passing.
Tobacco and Peppermint
My granddaddy was always the strong, silent type. I’ve never even heard him raise his voice in anger. He loved his family and nothing made him happier than being with the ones he loved and seeing them smiling and laughing.
Being the youngest of his grandchildren, my sister and I were considerably more spoiled. The fact that we lived further away than his other grandchildren (who were all of driving age or really close to it by the time we were born and, therefore, could always come over whenever they wanted) also warranted spoiling whenever we did see him. We were rarely turned down for anything we wanted. We never got in trouble and, when we did, Granddaddy was never the one to punish us. He left that for Grandma.
I don’t remember much about him from my childhood, before he was sick. I regret that I didn’t see him as often as I should. What I do remember are little tidbits. I remember his old shop which, though is still standing to this day, wasn’t put to much use as I got older except as a base point for my sister, Ashley, and I on the golf cart. I remember Granddaddy showing me how to hold a kitten the first time I had ever seen one. I remember shelling peas or peeling potatoes or washing fresh cabbage from the garden under the car port before the back porch was built. I remember curling up in his old leather chair to watch TV, usually Jeopardy! or Wheel of Fortune, before bed because his chair was always more comfortable than Grandma’s chair. However, the one thing that I remember most of all is how he always smelled of tobacco and peppermint. I’m still hit by a ton of bricks every time I walk into the house and the scent still lingers on the furniture, in the laundry, in the air.
For as long as I can remember, my Granddaddy chewed tobacco. I always thought it was the most disgusting thing in the world. It always looked so gross and I hated when I would stumble upon one of his spit cups. My grandma always had peppermints, I remember that vividly. She still does, in fact, because I always steal some when I’m at the house. I guess Grandma made him eat the peppermints a lot to cover the smell or something like that because every time I hugged him, hell, every time I was in the same room as him, I could smell the tobacco and the peppermints. It became a comfort to me as I grew up and everything around me seemed to be changing, it was something always present, always solid, always the same.
As he got sicker, Granddaddy stopped chewing tobacco due to it being so bad for his health. The smell started to fade much like he did. I didn’t see him a lot once I hit puberty. My life suddenly took precedent. I regret that now. I regret hardly seeing him and I regret not spending as much time with him as I should have. My granddaddy is with the angels now, where he was always meant to be, but that doesn’t stop me from missing the smell of tobacco and peppermint. I know he’s happier now though. And that is a slightly better comfort. The smell continued to linger in the house and I continued to love going over there because that smell was the slightest comfort I had throughout all the issues that popped up in school and at home.
The house was sold a few months ago. My grandmother now lives in a smaller home on my family’s property between Beulaville and Richlands. I think part of the move had to deal with her not wanting to live alone, surrounded by the walls they made a home for decades and the memories he left behind. However, she will only tell us that it was so she’d be near people and not in such seclusion, in case something happened.
Whenever I drive by the road the house is on, I’m always tempted to drive by it, to remember the Easter egg hunts and the cook-outs and the Christmas dinners. On a few sporadic occasions, I’m tempted to pull over, maybe even ask to go in, just to see if the smell still lingers in the air, tobacco and peppermint in the pillows, the bed spreads, the couch cushions, everything. But I don’t. I just keep driving and allow the emotional memories to overpower the physical ones.
However, every once in a while, when I’m not really concentrating on anything in particular, I’ll get a whiff of it, that pungent mixture of bitter tobacco and sweet peppermint. And it’s at those moments that I can’t help but think he’s watching over me, keeping me safe and making sure I do what’s right with my life. My very own guardian angel.