He Was a Hero, Like All Grandfathers

He Was a Hero, Like All Grandfathers

From Chicken Soup for the Grandparent's Soul

He Was a Hero, Like All Grandfathers

My grandfather didn’t only provide a guide to living; he lived life fully and modeled for me how to do it—mostly with love and kindness.

McAllister Dodds

A while ago, a legend entered my life in the most common of ways, disguised as a grandfather. His name was familiar, and I knew what he did long before I met him in a sticky, half-empty middle-school gym. We were watching a basketball game. I was there to see my son, and he was there to see his grandson. They play on the same team—a pretty good team, like a lot of other pretty good teams that play in gyms across the city every Saturday afternoon. Their fans are vocal and intimately tied to the players. Mother. Fathers. Siblings with nothing better to do. Sometimes grandparents. I saw him every week.

His past made him extraordinary, and periodically I would watch as people stopped to shake his hand. I assumed that he had gotten used to that, as well as to the deference and muffled whispers that followed him wherever he went, a long time ago. I wondered if that made life harder or easier, but as I watched him I decided that he had gotten used to that, too, and it was clear that although he enjoyed it, he had given it a place. A nice place, to be sure, but certainly somewhere below watching his grandson.

Over the years, his grandson and my son became friends. They did things that any other middle-school friends do. Movies. Football. Basketball. But interspersed with the routine, there was always the reminder of the legend.

“Mom, can I go to the Hall of Fame luncheon with Jeb and his grandpa?”

And visits to Jeb’s house were followed by, “We went to Jeb’s grandpa’s house. He has a really cool trophy room.”

“I imagine he does,” I would reply.

“No, this is really cool. He has a copy of his Hall of Fame bust.”

I don’t know why, but each time the reminder came, it took me by surprise.

Last week after school, for no other reason except that he likes to draw, my son came home and drew a copy of an autographed publicity shot Jeb’s grandpa had given him. He worked on it for hours. He finally brought it over.

“It’s very good,” I said and for the first time I really looked at the photo. It had been taken about forty years ago. I compared the photo and the drawing. “You’ve done the body perfectly,” I said.

And he had. He had copied in detail the body of the athlete kicking a football. But the face in the photo and the face in the drawing didn’t match. The face John drew was not the face of forty years ago. The face in the drawing was the mature face that he knew. John had drawn the face of the grandpa.

“But it’s not the best I’ve done,” he said.

“Well it’s not a perfect copy, but it’s very good,” I replied. “You should give it to him.”

The next morning my alarm went off at five, and, as is my routine, I lay in bed and listened to the radio’s news broadcast. The broadcaster was talking about The Toe.

I knew before they said it why The Toe was the lead story. Legends become lead stories when they are gone.

I listened for a while and went downstairs. The drawing was sitting on the kitchen table. “Lou Groza,” it said, “Hall of Fame, ’74.”

When John came home from the funeral, he mentioned a passage that had been read. It was titled, “Little Eyes Upon You.”

“And what did it say?” I asked.

“It said that older people should watch the steps they take because little kids are watching. Because to little kids, older people are heroes.”

Older people. Not legendary sport stars. Ordinary grandpas and grandmas and aunts and uncles and fathers and mothers.

This time the grandpa and legend just happened to be the same man.

I was wrong about the drawing. It was perfect.

Sue Vitou

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