Grandpa Joe

The past six weeks have slid by in a blur of work and travel and gray days. Winter arrived with too many cloudy days to count and it has oppressed me more than I can remember since my Emo high school days. I have sat down to write about the passing of my grandpa half a dozen times and instead of getting easier, I find it harder and harder to call up the memories and then the words to express them. He died at the beginning of December and while I am glad he is free from his suffering, the days since then have all been tinged with a melancholy that I never expected to feel. Each day I get up and think that if the sun will only shine I will start to feel better, and each night I go to bed feeling as if I have spent the day swimming too slowly through my life. And so I have come to understand that this is grief.

My earliest memory of my Grandpa Joe is talking to him on the police radio. He was a county sheriff in southern Missouri for eight years. The radio in his bedroom was how I let him know that I’d made it to his house after our three hour drive from Arkansas. The last half hour of the drive, all I could talk about was calling him on the radio. I was so excited to hear his voice come over the radio and know that he was coming home to see me. I’m sure all the police personnel hated hearing a squeaky-voiced girl on the radio, but there was never any denying the pleasure in my grandpa’s voice.

Another early memory of my grandpa was giving him my dog. My dad bought me a bloodhound puppy. That puppy grew to be a giant dog that I was afraid of, so I gladly gave the dog and his excellent name, Mr. Magoo, to my grandpa. After all, what better company for a sheriff than a bloodhound? After Grandpa trained Mr. Magoo for a while, he had my dad and uncle take me way out into the woods on their farm. He gave the dog my favorite stuffed animal and the dog found me in record time. He was so proud of that dog and what he could do.

He only spoke to me once about his time in the Marines. I had a class project in junior high and we were supposed to interview an elderly person–specifically, someone who had contributed to society in some way. I asked him about his time in the service in World War II and he spoke briefly about landing in Hiroshima after the end of the war. It was hard for him to talk about, and he didn’t want to tell me about what he saw or even remember what he witnessed, I think. This past summer while we walked around the rebuilt city, my thoughts often turned to him having walked the same ground after the bomb. It was an emotional day, one that in retrospect was made more so by his only question about our travels in Japan:  “Did you visit Hiroshima?” An odd connection, but one that I feel very strongly anyway.

I have so many memories of roaming the hills and valleys of his farm. Fishing in the pond. Hiding in his shop. Playing in the mud of the newly built lake when they moved to Arkansas. “Helping” with the cows. Watching him build things. Treasuring the things he built for me over the years. Visiting their house during my Sunday afternoons off from Governor’s school and doing my laundry. His pride in my graduating college. Seeing him care for my ailing grandmother. Watching him enjoy my children.

Grandpa Joe, Kate (my mom), and a very young Liza

I remember his constant presence in my life, with me always knowing of his love and support, and how he treated so many people that same way. When I was younger, I thought everyone had a grandfather like that. I know now as an adult how lucky and loved I was. I already miss him so much.

Chester Faye “Joe” Hawkins
May 13, 1922-December 9, 2008

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