Image Description: Two photos of me with my Grandpa Jim when I was a baby and a toddler. In the first one, he’s kissing me on the cheek. In the second one, he’s holding me, and I’m wearing his big, white shoes.
My grandfather was an orphan.
That’s a stark sentence, I realize, yet a true one. My Grandpa Jim’s early life was very rough. He was the youngest of five children. When his Mom was pregnant with him, or shortly after he was born — I’m not sure — his Dad died. This part I do know: My Grandpa Jim was born on the very day of the 1929 Stock Market Crash. That plunged the United States into the Great Depression.
His mother could not afford to raise her children so she placed them all in a Catholic orphanage. Then she set a plan in motion; she started selling moonshine! When she made enough money to bring her eldest home from the orphanage, that child helped her with the business. And when they had enough money to bring the second eldest home from the orphanage, that child helped her with the business. This pattern continued until they were all home. My Grandpa Jim lived in the orphanage the longest. He spent his first seven years of life there.
It was a challenging place. They had so little. He once found a chocolate bar wrapper and kept it for a good while just so he could smell it. This was a very vivid memory to him. It was rare that the children had big joys or delights.
But as an older adult, my Grandpa Jim loved to delight in small things.
Here’s a very vivid memory that I have: When my Great Uncle and his Brother-in-law died, most people were out in the hallway after the visitation was over, but he and I sat in the room together for a bit, and he started telling me ghost stories. They felt especially playful and spooky in a funeral home. All these years later, I don’t remember any of the details of those stories, but what I remember very clearly is that he had a red lollipop in the breast pocket of his dress shirt. Maybe that was an odd context to have a sucker sticking out of your pocket and visibly (I mean, there were pants pockets too). But I imagine he found it lying around somewhere in the funeral home — maybe they were there for guests or for children — and he snagged one for himself so he could enjoy it later.
There were other silly, simple delights too. He used to sing these really goofy songs. All these years later, his grandchildren remember all the words. He loved to whistle and shuffle his feet in a little dance. And I honestly believe he was just as excited as the children, if not more excited, to open presents for Christmas.
Earlier this week, when I was leaving my workplace, I saw some Hersey Kisses in a bowl, and I put about five of them in the pocket of my coat. All week long, every time I’ve put on my coat and grabbed my keys in my pocket, I’ve also been surprised that I have these there. I just keep forgetting they’re there. And each time, I have this huge spike in delight. People who know me well also know how excited I get for little treats, and how much I enjoy the surprise of them, whether they’re displayed for a group or whether people give them to me personally. It’s a big swell of delight for something small yet unexpected.
And I’ve never made the connection before. This week, for the first time in my life, I asked myself, “Do I get this from Grandpa Jim?”