My grandfather died when I was fourteen years old. My family was living in Alameda, California, at the time, a long way from Colorado, the place my grandpa called home. But, as always, I miss my ornery cowboy grandpa.
The features I remember most about my grandpa were that he was a large man, six feet or more in all directions. He also had large hands and a deep booming voice. Every day, he wore cowboy gear, a large straw cowboy hat, a western shirt, a western tie, and cowboy boots. I loved the fact that my grandpa was a real cowboy. So naturally, I adored this man.
Although he was a bit rough around the edges, he had a softness for babies and his grandchildren. When we were small, grandpa sometimes babysat for my mom, Dotty. If a diaper needed to be changed, he would remove the offensive diaper. Still, he was afraid to put on a clean one because he didn’t want to “poke the little one” with a diaper pin. Yeah, no disposable diapers back in the day. Instead, he stuffed the baby into two or three pairs of training pants and covered his creation in plastic pants. Grandpa always found a solution to some problem.
When we visited, grandpa would always greet us with hugs and kisses, laughter and money, in that order. He always ensured we had some change in our pockets before leaving. Next, he would look at us and softly state in his raspy “baby” voice that we were “a damned cute kid.” Since we knew what was coming next, we often tried to dodge grandpa because we knew he would pinch our cheeks. To this day, I swear that was why we all have chipmunk cheeks; it was grandpa’s doing.
For a time, grandpa had this old green jeep that he enjoyed driving, but when he was on the road, he raced everywhere: out of the driveway, in the streets, and in parking lots. There wasn’t a safe place on the island when grandpa would drive. My parents always made us promise that we would never, ever go anywhere with grandpa when he was driving. But of course, we learned at a young age that “what happens at grandma and grandpa’s, stays at grandma and grandpa’s.” We had so many heart-pounding adventures over the years, and we never did get caught! Still, my sweet grandma would constantly fret that my parents would find out, and that would be the end of our sleepovers. Obviously, she did not have to worry, for spending time with my grandparents was a significant part of my childhood.
Looking back over those years, I fondly recall my cowboy grandpa’s stories of the ranch, the family, the horses, and the sheep he loved so much. I have missed that man. What I wouldn’t give to hear him say just one more time, “damn cute kid,” and then cringe because I knew what was coming next ~ chipmunk cheeks. I guess I kinda like them now.