Sunday, January 12, 2014


We called him Pa

I just found out that my grandpa died this evening. It wasn't entirely unexpected since he was 91 years old, but it still caught me by surprise. He was one of the last of his generation, called by some the greatest generation.

Pa's family moved out west to Idaho from Tennessee in 1929, seeking asylum for his sister Dot who was suffering from tuberculosis. En route they stayed two nights at the extra house of a man living on a mountain. He gave them a Belgian Police dog which they later had to "dispose of" due to distemper.

I once asked Pa about the Great Depression. He said they would bundle together willow sticks to make firewood. When the railroad ties were replaced, his father would float them down the river with Pa's older brother, Lake, and Pa would take them out at their property (or close to it). They burned the old ties to keep themselves warm.

The day after the attack at Pearl Harbor in 1941, he went down with some of his buddies and enlisted in the United States Navy. He spent the next four years in the Caribbean and South Pacific, experimenting on torpedoes and working in the engine room of a small ship that took diesel and air fuel to the front lines.

"I damn near sunk the ship," Pa once told me. The prop's screw casing was leaking and needed repacking, but the crew didn't want to take the ship into dry dock. Pa pumped the fuel or water to the bow of their 140 some foot fuel freighter, sinking the bow while exposing the screw of the propeller. Other than that, Pa didn't have anything to do with the repairs.

"I never got to Samoa, though our ship went there after we'd gone home." But Pa did get to see Bora Bora (from the ship), Guadalcanal, Bougainville, and Green Island.

How Pa loved telling us grandkids stories of his days in the Navy, and we loved listening to him tell them. There we'd sit with a root beer, or pistachios, or crackers and cheese, or cookies, which Grammie always had in ample supply, or perhaps we'd all be sitting together playing Pinochle, and we'd listen to Pa's stories for hours. And it didn't even matter that we'd heard the stories before.

Pa taught me how to work. Nearly every summer Saturday all through my teen years I and one of my brothers would go and mow Pa's lawn. He took a special pride in the state of his lawn and took the lead in putting in new flower beds or taking out bushes, in showing us how to weed whack or fertilize or adjust the sprinklers. He paid us handsomely in cash, Pinochle, and stories of the war.

"Pa, what was your father like?" I asked him back in 2009 on one of my last visits home.

A short pause. And then, "He was a fine father."

I could tell he really meant it.

"He was the best carpenter I knew."

His father passed away back in 1980. I have a hunch that they are enjoying their first moments together in over 30 years.

And I bet Pa's going to like getting to know the best Carpenter I know.


tpmotd said...

Great eulogy, Nate. Sorry for your loss, but happy for him!

Rachel said...

Sorry, to hear about your Grandpa. What a great tribute to him.

Katie said...

Nate, you did an awesome job portraying Pa. Love you.

Whitney Hardie said...

Nate - what a great portrait you've given us of your grandfather. I'm sorry he is gone, but really enjoyed reading a bit about him.

Jeffrey Hall said...

Nate, so sorry, for your sake that your Pa has past on to the other side, but as you stated what a wonderful reunion for his sake. Wonderful to read his story.