My father is an only child. I was the first-born grandchild. So, it seems natural I would have a unique bond with my paternal grandfather. Ask anyone who knew him and they would concur; the man adored his cherubic, blonde, curly headed granddaughter, and the adoration ran both ways. My grandfather has been gone now for over 15 years but he is never far from my thoughts. Some of my fondest memories, and things that are still very much a part of me, are because of him.
At approximately 6’5” and well over 200 pounds, Gran Les, as we lovingly called him, was a towering figure of a man, but don’t let his size fool you, the man was ALL HEART!! He grew up with three brothers and one sister, had no daughters of his own, but somehow knew instinctively just how to make a little girl feel like she was the center of his world.
My grandparents lived in the same house for all of my life, built with his own hands when my father was 17. My grandmother was stricken with polio in her late teens/early twenties. The home he built was designed to make her life easier. It had a completely open floor plan with no hallways and pocket doors that slid into the wall so she could easily navigate throughout the structure.
All of the countertops in the kitchen and bathrooms were low for easy access via my grandmother’s wheelchair. The cabinets had spinning shelves so nothing was out of her reach. There was a brick patio outback that stretched the full length of the house, along with an in-ground pool so she could enjoy time outdoors. He designed a hydro lift so she could easily navigate the transfer from wheel chair to pool unassisted.
Despite working full time and helping his wheelchair bound wife with household chores, he still had plenty of time for my sister and I during our summer visits. We lived in South Carolina until the summer I turned 15, and every year we made the eight-hour drive to Florida to visit. When I got older, I was allowed to stay by myself for two weeks at a time, sharing the visit with my maternal grandparents who also lived in Florida.
Those summer visits were full of things like ICEE’s from the local convenience store, homemade peppermint ice cream hand churned on his patio, games of horse-shoes in the sand pits he built, Cuban sandwiches (still a favorite) handmade by him on six foot long loaves of Cuban bread from Publix, fun times playing ping pong on the patio, spinning tunes on the really cool electric piano that played songs all by itself, and best of all hours upon hours splashing around in the in-ground swimming pool.
Let’s not forget the family. Ironically, my grandfather and his brother married sisters so there were tons of cousins, whom I still keep in touch with, who came over every summer for pool parties on the back patio, and August birthday celebrations for everyone’s favorite curly headed blonde (me!).
There were also aunts, uncles and cousins from another brother. This family owned a welding supply business, which still exists today, along with condos on the beach. We always made the trip to Clearwater to see the other Crumptons (my maiden name), and to spend time at the beach with them. We water skied in Tampa Bay and caught our very own scallops that we went home and ATE, such delicacies!
More than once my grandfather made me a Barbie doll cake, I’m talking about the kind where the doll is standing and the cake is her skirt, no small feat!! He made Cuban food; Boliche, black beans, yellow rice, plantains and hand peeled oranges for ambrosia salad. I was introduced to my very first raw oysters, even before I could really talk, on his back patio, thank you, Gran Les!! I still adore raw oysters, shared a dozen of them with my husband just this weekend.
I was married with a family when he passed away, and I am so happy he got to meet my husband and children. I have pictures of my children at his home in Florida and happy memories of the trips I made there with my husband early in our marriage.
I often wonder what he would think of the woman I’ve become. He always wanted me to attend college and though he didn’t live long enough to see me graduate, I think he would be very proud that I finally did. I don’t think he would have been overly fond of my travels to communist China or earthquake stricken Haiti, but he would have supported me nonetheless. He would have thought me a bit nuts for travelling across the ocean to run a 26.2 mile race (London Marathon) but would have admired my tenacity.
Gran Les, I love you dearly, miss you deeply and am so incredibly grateful for the love you showed me, the time you spent with me, and the memories we built which I will cherish for always.
Until Next Time,
Becky J Miller