Everyone called him “Red,” even though he had been bald since his early twenties. The nickname was from when he was a young man with flaming red hair, and it would be with him until the day he died in the nursing home, alone, in a bed with a stiff mattress and the thinnest sheets.
I had not visited my grandfather in the nursing home for months before he died. The last time I saw him was when I went with my mother on a Sunday afternoon and stood quietly in the shadows, trying to choke down the tears I know he saw. He was 90. I was 26.
What a horrible feeling that must have been for him--to see a grandchild grieving him while he was still alive. Worse yet, my mother always said that I was his favorite, as much as a grandfather of fourteen can have favorites.
When I was a child, and he was more vital, he rarely spoke to me. Oh, there were the silly teasings and jokes. Maybe even a few tickles and smiles. But, I never had a conversation with my grandfather. I don’t ever recall being in the same room with him alone. How could I have been his favorite?
I have Scottish blood on both my mother’s and father’s side. Through my grandfather came the Scottish blood. My mother’s mother provided the Irish, only a couple of generations away from the boat.
Oral “Red” Moor had been a bit of a dandy when he was young. He liked nice clothes, always wore the finest hats. And, yet, he had been a sharecropper most of his life—probably spending most of his days in the dust of fields and cool of his own sweat.
He was a man of few words. But, he loved card games, and I grew up hearing about his prowess as though legend. The moments when he would make risky bids without looking at his cards. The way he could seemingly always win any game he played. Euchre and chess were his fortes.
I only played chess with him once. I forget how old I was, well into my teens, but I know that he had already begun to stiffen with age and the early stages of Parkinson’s. I wanted to beat him. My entire life I had heard how he was unbeatable, formidable.
It was not a fair match. I watched him feebly move the pieces. I knew that my victory would be hollow. It is even more heart-breaking in retrospect. I bragged at the time. What a shallow thing to do, really. He only sat there with a small smile on his face, staring at the board, not saying a word. He spoke so few. But, those eyes of his said so much. I wish I could’ve played him when we were both at our strongest. I will never be able to.
When I was little, I was fascinated by sticks. I always tried to find the coolest switches from our bushes. I used crooked twigs from the tall maples as swords and lightsabers. He must have quietly taken note.
I could not have been more than five when he gave me my cherished stick, something he spent nights working on in the shop in his basement. He glued two different pieces of wood together and sanded them down until they were smooth enough for a young girl’s hands. It was thick at one end and tapered down into a blunted tip.
At the time, I had found it a disappointment. A stick? My present was a stick? Of course, with time, the stick and I became as inseparable as my baseball cap and thick black leather belt. I loved that stick until years and years later when it finally broke off at the tip and splintered.
I don’t think I ever really thanked him for it. A self-centered child. A wasted opportunity that this adult wishes she had not squandered.
What would I give now for one small chance to sit down across from this quiet man and ask him questions about his life. How much of him is a part of me? What would he tell me now that I am in my mid-30s?
Red was a man of so few words. I wish I would’ve listened more to the ones I had the privilege to have heard.