Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Okies, part 9

Grandpa Harris was a good man and a quiet man. He was typically one who didn't speak unless he had something useful to say, and spent his time quietly listening to other people. He was a gentle, patient and kind man.

Grandpa was a relatively short man, very round, with a distinct black flattop that was never grey, What Dad lacked in hair, his own Dad made up for. Here was the perfect example of genes skipping a generation.

Actually, we’re pretty sure Dad inherited his baldness from Grandma’s side, since Grandma Harris too had very little hair. Though she had grey hair on every part of her head, it was so thin you could see her scalp from any angle. She’d get her hair done at the hairdressers, and proudly ask you how it looked, and didn’t she look pretty? And I would look through her hair, see her scalp, and tell her, “Yes, it looked great!”

The thing I remember most about Grandpa Harris was his smile. Even in his seventies, when Grandpa Harris would smile, he'd look like a seven year old boy who'd been caught kissing the girls.

Grandpa Harris also worked at Conoco, but as a machinist. He never talked much about work, and rarely spoke of his boyhood family, so I have very little knowledge of his family life. I do know that most of his family is today in Ohio, Pennsylvania and California, though we don't keep in touch with any of them,

Grandpa Harris would keep busy helping other people. Whether it was mowing Aunt Marnie's yard in Blackwater, selling VFW charity pansies outside Wal-Mart, or rebuilding a shelf that Grandma wanted rebuilt, Grandpa always found his expression of love in his hands.

Grandpa was enormously patient, and nobody could try patience like I could. As a hyperactive youth, I was the ultimate test for most adults. I have vivid memories of driving substitute teachers mad with rage, literally being chased around the room by them. But Grandpa’s patience knew no end. He could change a set of tires on his car with my help. He’d patiently hand me the lug nuts, and I’d work alongside him. If I dropped a nut, or kicked a tool, he’d just grab it and continue in his work. Never a word.

Grandpa Harris was also a man of principle. As a machinist at Conoco, he had never joined the union because he didn't care much for it. When they'd strike, he'd buck the picket lines and go on into work. And some days, Grandpa would open his lunchbox to find someone had shit in it. He'd quietly just close the lunchbox back up, go hungry that day, and continue with his work, never budging, never letting it bother him.

He was strong that way.

My days spent with Grandpa and Grandma as a kid were filled with games of penny-ante poker, UNO, hand-held electronic games, and watching whatever game shows were popular at the time. Game shows like Card Sharks, Tic-Tac-Dough, Press Your Luck and Wheel of Fortune were the staple television diet at the Harris house. During the school-year we'd learn from books, but in the summer, when in Ponca, we'd learn how to play games.

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