One hero from my childhood was my maternal grandfather, Harvie Montgomery. I flat out adored him. That is him and me in the picture, dated 1967. It must have been Easter or something, because he is not wearing overalls and I appear reasonably clean.
Grandpa was a simple man. He and Grandma Exie didn’t own much; just a tiny house with the furnishings, and an old car. The car was a grayish greenish faded Dodge Dart with plastic seat covers, and a small brown velveteen dog that sat on the dash bobbing his head with the movement of the vehicle. It’s funny the things you remember and the things you don’t. I remember the way the backs of my legs stuck to those seat covers, and I remember that little dog.
He wasn’t the type of grandfather to over indulge his grandchildren with money or presents or trips to great places. He had very little money to do so. But what he did have was time, and he spent that on me generously. He made me feel like the most important kid on the planet. I spent many weeks with him and Grandma in the summers at their home in Tecumseh, Oklahoma.
He enjoyed my company, and allowed me to be wherever he was, doing whatever he was doing. He always told me the truth. No matter what question I asked, he would answer it truthfully or not at all. The not at all part happened quite a bit, because I was a kid who asked plenty of questions. But, as I grew older, the unanswered questions faded away and frank discussions on life took their place.
During one of my summer visits, he brought out an old fiddle from the closet. My mother had told me stories about how he and her uncles would gather on the porch and play for hours when she was a child. But, I had never seen the fiddle before. That day he put it on my lap and said “I want you to have this.” I still have it. Though, regretfully, I never learned to play.
When I was 28, he got sick with metastasized lung cancer. Having rolled his own cigarettes from Prince Albert in a can, it was only a matter of time and no surprise. Even into his 80s he liked to joke, “They say these things will kill me. They better hurry up or old age will beat them to it.”
I had also been diagnosed with cancer, Hodgkins Disease, and was taking treatment at that time. He said to me one day, “I don’t care about myself. I’m old. I’m just worried about you.”
He saw doctors, took some treatments, but within 14 months the cancer took him. He died May 28, 1993, at the age 86. Having lost Grandma a year before (they both passed on Memorial Day weekend) the loss was doubly devastating.
Our family has never been much on eulogies outside the one spoken by the pastor or funeral director, I felt strongly that my hero should not be buried without a proper one. I asked permission to do so, and it was granted. Although, I must say, there were quite a few raised eyebrows and worried looks. What WOULD I say?
Yesterday, my Daddy brought me the typewritten copy of the eulogy I wrote in 1993. My mother had saved it all these years in a drawer, folded up with a newspaper memoir her cousin had written about their Grandpap. Here is the eulogy by a heartbroken 29 year old for her Grandpa:
For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Diane. I’m here to say “goodbye” to my Grandpa, Harvie Montgomery. I am the third child of his third daughter, Carolyn. Grandpa had 21 grandkids. We all loved him dearly, and he loved us. He made each of us feel very special, but never showed favoritism. I never received a birthday card from him.. but that’s okay, because neither did any of you. (I remember smiling to the congregation here, and there was some laughter).
My fondest childhood memories are of spending part of my summers with my grandparents in that little house on Washington Street, where the worst thing that ever happened was that I was made to share a bath with my older sister, and was given only three inches of water in which to do it.
I remember following Grandpa around in the garden when the freshly plowed dirt was still wet from the dew. His feet turned slightly out and I’d place mine in his footprints, determined to learn to walk just like him. He always let me do whatever he was doing, digging potatoes, picking strawberries, planting onions. He grew his own popcorn and even planted a row of cotton because Grandma thought it was pretty. He once took a branch from one tree and attached it to another, and grew two different kind of fruit from the same tree. I was there when he did that.
Grandpa loved to fish. He taught me that if I used a bobber and a worm for bait and fished right off the bank, I could catch perch, one right after another, all day long. They were too small to keep, so we’d just throw them right back in. It never occurred to me then that I might have been catching the same silly fish all day. He also showed me that if I removed the bobber, used a crawdad for bait and cast my line in the middle of the pond, with a little patience I could catch bigger fish. I never used that technique because I wasn’t so sure I could handle a fish big enough to eat a crawdad and I knew I’d never be able to talk that crawdad into getting on that hook without my actually having to touch it.
I’m sure most of the grandkids will remember receiving a slingshot Grandpa made from scrap wood and old tire tubing. We used them to shoot pecans because, at Grandpa’s house, pecans were more plentiful than rocks.
When he spoke, it was slow and calm and patient. He told amusing stories of his childhood. He never told me to hush or settle down.
When I was about 13 years old or so, Grandpa gave me his fiddle. The one he’d play for his wife and young family many years before. It is to this day my most prized possession. It was my goal to learn to play it for him. But, soon thereafter, I became a full blown teenager and, if I had any goals at that time, they aren’t worth mentioning here. As much as I regret never learning to play the fiddle in his lifetime, I feel it more that I never hard him play. But, I can live with that, because I’m told in Heaven all your dreams come true. So, I’m certain that one day I will hear him play that fiddle. Thank you.
I was 29 when he died, and I still miss him to this day. I thought you should meet him.