Unshelved by Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum
comic strip overdue media

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Lighting a candle

Today would have been my grandfather's eightieth birthday. His name was Edgar Craig. He died three years ago after a long battle with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). He was a smoker, even sneaking a cigarette when he'd go out to the store so my grandmother wouldn't fuss at him. When I was little, he seemed to smoke a pipe more than cigarettes. He spent his last years attached to oxygen bottles. I hate what smoking did to his quality of life, and if I sometimes seem a little rabid on the topic, he's one reason why.

He was a man who worked hard all his life. He was born in Parksville, Kentucky, and grew up on Persimmon Knob near Junction City. He lived with his brothers and sisters (there were 14 altogether), his parents, and grandparents through the Depression. When he was 17, his father died and he quit school to go work in Dayton, Ohio so he could send money back to the family. He barely made it back on the train in time to marry my grandmother, the 'little black-haired girl' back home. He was a US Marine who'd served in a tank division on Iwo Jima. Later, he did construction. In the 1950s he fell from a bridge and landed on top of his jackhammer, breaking his back. The doctor who treated him did such a poor job that by the time he had the back surgery he needed, they told him that if he'd stepped on a piece of gravel the wrong way, he could have been paralysed. He had a near death experience there, and thought he'd heard nuns singing.

For years he managed the G.E.M. Supply store in Danville, Kentucky. He seemed to know everyone in town because of this. Then he turned to sales. Once the store had closed, he found that his lack of a high school education kept him from most management positions. Yet he was the most financially smart man I've ever known. I wish I had a tenth of his ability.

He passed on great loves to my mom and me. Gardening. Keeping fish. A love of history. He read a great deal, especially once he retired. He introduced me to the National Geographic. One of my favourite Christmas gifts I found for him was a book on Danville history mentioning his mother, Virginia, who had sons in the Navy, Army, and Marines. Pa was the Marine. He is the reason I know that the famous picture on which the monument was based was actually the second flag raised; the first was considered too small. I also heard descriptions of what it was like to be in tanks on volcanic sand. And he once told me of how an officer tried to get him to volunteer, but he said, 'if you order me to go, I will, but I won't volunteer'. When the officer asked why, he explained that he had a wife and child at home. He was willing to serve his country and follow orders, but he wasn't go to get gung ho and throw his life away. He lived his life a lot like that...working hard, fairly gentle, making choices by looking ahead. The only times I ever heard him seem angry or raise his voice was if he described someone he thought was an abusive bully. He had no use for that kind of man.

In some ways, he was a surrogate father for me; my main positive male rolemodel. When I was little, and my dad was in Vietnam, we lived with my grandparents. I sometimes got confused and called him 'Daddy' like my mom did. It became a family joke, 'Daddy Pa'. I was apparently so like my aunt when I was little, in terms of being a chatterbox and even a little in looks, that he sometimes called me 'Sharon'. It drove him crazy that he did it, but I got to where I'd just respond anyway. I knew he saw me for myself. He was one of the few who did. He was my buddy. He'd get his boots on to go out to the farm and I'd say 'I go with you Pa!' and grab my little boots, too. I was three, and he was the best guy in the world.

I still feel that way. And I miss him. So, tonight, Pa, I'm thinking of you.

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