My Pops and I have just about one thing in common; come next year we’ll both be seniors. The only slight difference is I’ll be a senior in high school and he’s a senior citizen, well into his seventies. Old people do not tend to be much fun to hang around, especially for people my age. They usually smell funny, are irritable, grouchy, and have a tendency to ramble on for what feels like hours, while their “listeners” slowly dwindle into day dreams concerning their next meal. This was a habit I had gotten myself into years ago. Something would spark my Pop’s memory, he would always begin, in his serious tone, with “Ariel, did you know” and he would break into a spiel about who-knows-what. I would look at him wide-eyed with interest, a hint of a smile across my face, and occasionally I would nod my head. To every pause I would respond with an assortment of words, which were interchangeable and bound to make sense in response to anything he said to me, such as “really” “wow” and “awesome.” The reality is the entire time, my mind was somewhere else. I had never thought twice about it, after all, they were just stories.
With two days till thanksgiving we drove up to Kentucky to visit my grandma’s sister, who lives in the same college town where my Pops and grandma met, graduated, and married. So we walked around, trying to hide his enthusiasm he gave me tour of the place, reminding me every so often that “those were the days.”
Now I can’t explain it, as with all transformations that happen so deep and complexly within you, there are no words which do justice. But from that point on I wanted to hear the stories, so I listened. The more I had begun to love the stories the more I had begun to love him, the man who was made by those stories.
My Pops grew up poor; he got a flashlight for Christmas one year, then batteries for it the next. In college he worked three jobs to pay for tuition, was senior class president, and married the golden girl on campus, who was lead in the school play and graduated with countless achievement awards. He started his own business, always honest and hardworking. He new who he was, and never compromised that. He does not take shortcuts; he is still the life of every party. I wish I could tell the stories, to help you understand the incredible man he is, the reasons he is my heroes. By their stories I learned what it means to live. With all the twisted media, and false heroes in our world, we need to remember what was once good, what it really meant to be an American, to love, and to fight for what you new was right. It cannot be taught, it must be heard from the mouths of those who made it real. I believe in listening to the stories.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.