Driving between buildings this afternoon, I got stuck behind an older model Chevy S-10 pickup. Feeling rushed to get to my next group of students, I suddenly found myself pushing down very impatient thoughts and actions toward what was clearly an older gentleman behind the wheel. Honestly, as I sat just behind him at a stop sign, I watched in a mixed of wonderment and bewilderment as I observed just how long this man took to make a right hand turn. Seriously, it was at least a 90 second process before he had his vehicle’s tires facing straight ahead. Trying not to seethe at this event in my rush-rush-rush mode, I suddenly was overcome in a flash of nostalgia of my Grandpa, and the memories haven’t stopped flooding my brain since.
My Grandpa was a notoriously slow driver. If we were spending a Saturday night at their house, two things were certain. One, I would lie awake at some point in the middle of the night struggling to fall back asleep thanks to the thunderous snoring of my grandparents. Secondly, we would have a fried chicken dinner at the VFW with my great aunts and uncles and several of my grandparents’ close friends. Coming home smelling like grease and stale cigarette smoke was worth it for a night at the VFW. The only downside was that the not even 10 mile drive from Odell to Pontiac would take at least 30 minutes thanks to Grandpa’s leisurely pace. I swear, that man was NEVER in a hurry. I’m pretty sure he never even knew of the term “schedule”. For my Grandpa, it seemed like he was only ever in the moment, very rarely planning ahead and always enjoying where he was at in that second and not considering what was going to happen next. Life would play out as the opportunities presented themselves, not as the clock dictated.
Thinking about my Grandpa’s slow driving naturally set off another immediate memory, this one of his trusty white Nova. That car was something else. Built like a tank with an interior incredibly spacious for what back then was considered a “compact car”, I sat in my vehicle today and could remember so vividly the smell of that car that it’s like I was surrounded by it. I closed my eyes for just a second and could picture the oil change sticker in the top corner of the windshield (the kind with the small piece of paper that the mechanic would write in the next oil change in pen), the stick on calendar on the dashboard, and the push button radio presets. But it was the memory of a scent that washed over me so vividly, so close it’s like I was five years old again.
The memory of that scent brought to mind another that makes me instantly think of my Grandpa. Grandpa wore Old Spice always and forever, or at least as long as I was alive. He often smelled like grease thanks to time spent in his unorganized labyrinth of a tractor shed, or the mixed combination of dirt, fresh air and sweat (a byproduct of being a lifelong farmer), but it’s the distinct smell Old Spice that I think of first when I remember Grandpa. Fresh from a bath, Grandpa liked to give “whisker kisses” to his grandkids leaving the scent of his after shave all over our faces. We pretended to hate it; I’d give anything for just one more round of whisker kisses from that ornery old man.
I wasn’t expecting a walk down memory lane today. I certainly wasn’t expecting to become overwhelmed with my grandfather’s absence fourteen years since he passed away. I miss all of my grandparents that have passed, each in very different ways. I miss my Grandma Bolen’s quiet strength. I miss watching her craft her latest project, and I miss being able to talk to her about gardening and flowers. I miss watching her sit on her porch as she looks out on her own garden. I miss my Grapa Pokarney, especially his laugh. I miss his stories and talking to him about school, and I miss watching him roll his eyes at something ridiculous Grama or I would share. I miss his hugs and I miss the way he used to take the girls downstairs to play.
But my Grandpa Bolen. The thing I miss the most about him is something I never got to witness. He died months before I was married, years before I became a mom. So many times I have wished that he could have lived long enough to meet the girls. He was a stubborn, strong willed, bull headed man, but oh how he loved little kids. I can picture him laughing as he watched the girls and then sharing stories with whoever would listen about what funny things his great granddaughters had done or said, chuckling again as he relived it. I can see McKenna giggling nervously at him, not quite sure if he might do something silly or scary (e.g., popping his false teeth out of his mouth as a joke). I know Elaina would be equal parts in love with him as her captive audience and totally infuriated with his poor hearing and his teasing. He would have loved having those girls in his life.
My grandpa was a simple man, and maybe that’s why such a simple, ordinary moment in the middle of an otherwise mundane activity brought back such intense memories. Maybe today was his way of reminding me to focus on what’s important in those moments when things aren’t going the way I’ve planned. Thanks for the reminder, Grandpa. And thanks for the memories.