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Before I could walk, or speak, even, I was his. He took me in. He raised me as his own because he was that kind of man.

From the time I could choose, I gravitated toward him. He was my earth, and I was his moon. I know I was not his only moon. He loved so many people, fiercely.  But, until I met my husband, he was my only earth.

I learned A LOT during my time in orbit.

For example, I learned how to chew tobacco and that no wardrobe is complete without a can of it in your pocket.

I learned that if you can’t get dirty while doing something, it probably isn’t going to be fun.

I learned how to fight a chicken and nurse it back to health by lacing jello with antibiotics. (Honestly, who knew chickens liked jello?  — Grandpa.)

I learned how to make sinkers by melting down pop cans over an open fire… in a garage… when I was six.

I learned that Wheaties and strawberry pop make the best fishing bait, ever. (If you don’t eat it all before you get to your fishing hole.)

I learned how to shoot a bow and fashion safety harnesses for your tree stand out of old seat belts (which is a handy skill if you have a habit of falling asleep in tree stands while your Grandpa is trying to hunt).

I learned how to spray paint. Anything. Sky blue.

*****

Since that day,  the day he died, there is one lesson that I can’t get out of my head.

He tried to teach me how to drive ole’ blue – his sacred, sky blue 1980 Toyota pickup that he painstakingly spray painted with his two hands.

It was a big deal to this twelve-year-old girl. I knew he loved me, But I knew he LOVED that truck. It was his pride and joy, and I was a nervous wreck.

I remember riding shotgun while Grandpa drove out past the airport. I am sure I was chewing some juicy fruit and bee-bopping along to some Bill Monroe gospel bluegrass. We turned onto a winding blacktop, and I was none the wiser. I was so used to going where ever Grandpa went that I never bothered to ask where that may be. When the blacktop turned to dirt, he pulled over, so I got out of the truck thinking that we were going to scope out a good spot for a deer stand. Or to take a walk in the woods so he could tell me which kind of tree was what and or how to track something. Or go looking for pop cans on the side of the road with those particular sticks that never left the bed of his truck. (He had made them for the specific purpose of collecting cans).

Instead, he held open the driver’s side door and said, “Get in.”

I just stared.

He said, “Now, Tanya, get on up in there so you can drive.”

I just stared.

He said, “Tanya, you better get in there and learn how to drive because I am not going to be here to haul you around for the rest of your life.”

So wordlessly, I got in. When he climbed into the passenger seat, I finally spoke. I said, “Grandpa, I am only 12. I don’t know how to drive.”

He said, “Well then, it is about time you learn.”

I protested more, “But Grandpa, I don’t know the first thing about driving.”

And he said, “Well, I know you don’t. That is what I am trying to teach you,” and he began telling me about the keys and clutch and gas and break… all the essentials.

After an eternity I finally got ole’ blue on the road.

It was exhilarating. I was driving. I remember hanging on to that worn out steering wheel and bouncing in my seat. I was looking at him while excitedly pointing out the obvious, “Grandpa! I am driving! Look! I am driving.”

He said, “If you don’t keep your eyes on that road, you won’t be driving for long.”

I drove the heck out of that little truck on that dirt road. I even managed to get up to 20 mph. It was amazing.

Until a car came.

I PANICKED.

I took my foot off the gas pedal and screamed, “Grandpa, a CAR is coming!”

He said, “I know, I can see it.”

I screamed, “What do I do? What. Do. I. Do? A CAR IS COMING,” and I stopped the truck right there on the road and literally covered my eyes like a little child so I couldn’t see the scary thing coming at me.

After it had passed, he put his hand on my back and said: “Tanya, things are always going to be coming at you, but if you keep stopping every time something scary comes your way, you aren’t going to get very far.” 

I said, “Grandpa, I can’t do this. It is too hard, and I am too scared.

He said, “Girl, haven’t you learned that you can do anything? Now, I know it is hard and I know you are scared, but you just put this truck on the road, and you point it in the direction you want to go, and you don’t stop until you get there. You may have to slow down and you may have to pull over, but you keep driving until you get there.”

 *****

My Grandpa was a husband, a father, and a friend. He would be the first to tell you that he was not perfect in any of those roles. He lived a hard life. He made mistakes. But God transformed Grandpa’s brokenness into a strong foundation upon which a legacy was built. A legacy of hard work. A legacy of second chance and forgiveness. A legacy of loving the least of these – because among all of his amazing talents, loving the least of these was what Grandpa did the very best.

He touched so many lives. With each touch, he gave a gift – a memory, and anecdote, a word of advice, a kick in the backside. That gift may not seem like some life changing revelation, but at the same time, it fills you with laughter, or warmth, or safety, or love.

That gift – it rests in a special place in each heart. He planted it there, in that very spot, intentionally and with great purpose. So that it would grow and you could find it at the very moment when it was needed.

Like me, and my driving lesson.

 *****

Right now, this is scary. Right now, it is hard. And so uncertain. I don’t know how to live without him. I want just to stop. I want to stand in the middle of the road screaming in terror at the thought of losing my hero and having to face a second on this planet without him.

But, I know he is whole. I know he has been made new. He doesn’t know suffering or pain. No one can hurt him ever again. He is safe and protected. He is racing hot rods on streets of gold or scoping out the perfect fishing hole and spot for a tree stand or making a porch swing for his new mansion.

And I know that when it is my time, I will see him again.

But only if I keep driving. Only if I don’t stop. Only if I keep this truck on the road and headed in the right direction.