A grandson's look back
May 1, 2000
I was blessed to have both sets of grandparents for sixteen years of my life. Even though my father's career in the military took us away for part of that time, we always managed to visit in the summer, and eventually went back home.
--- Copyright © 2000 Michael David Arnold, Ed.D. --- Missouri
I would like to take this opportunity to tell you a little about each of my grandparents. If we are reflections of where we come from, this will be like looking in a mirror. For I am a product of my parents and grandparents. Their attitudes and beliefs have been instilled in me for as long as I can remember.
First there was Iva Jean, my Grandma Arnold. She was a loving caring woman. I don't have any earthly possessions of hers, but I do have picture of her holding me as a small child. In that picture her face still glows even after all these years.
While I remember several things about my grandmother, the one thing that comes to the forefront is that she never took the time to get her driver's license. Even as a small boy it seemed strange for an adult not to have a license. It didn't seem to matter though. My grandmother always set aside her day off to take my brother or I out for the day. I cherished these times because it was just her and me. We would begin the day with a taxi ride to breakfast and then shopping. I can't remember a thing we bought, just the fact she wanted to spend time with me.
I suppose that is why as I got older I didn't mind going to church with her. As much of a thrill as I got from spending time with her as a child, she seemed to get more of a thrill when her grandson would go to church with her.
Later in life my grandma was diagnosed with cancer. She fought this disease with everything she had. I can remember the little marks on the doorframe as she charted how high she could raise her arm after surgery. As a kid I knew my grandmother would live forever. Unfortunately she did not.
I remember the night that my dad came in and woke me up to tell me grandma had died. I was a sophomore in high school. Most people would have been grateful for the time they had, I just cried.
My Grandpa Arnold, George Edward, was a private man. I got to know him better after my grandma passed away. He would come over to our house for dinner every night. It also gave me the opportunity to see the love and respect my father had for his dad.
As I said earlier, grandpa was a private man. He was retired military and was not prone to emotion. My dad tells me he could sing, although I never heard him. There are two stories that I believe will give you some insight into his personality.
The first deals with the Christmas before my grandmother died. Grandma always liked real Christmas trees, but I never remembered one in her home until that Christmas. Grandpa made sure my grandmother had a real tree in her home. Christmas was a very important time of the year for my grandma. I knew this because she put a lighted Santa in my room to make sure he could find me. The same Santa is still in my daughter's room lighting the way.
The second was the day of my grandmother's funeral. We were on our way back from the cemetery in Independence, Missouri. It had not been on of the best days in my life, and I believe he knew I needed something. About half way home grandpa pops up and asks if I would like to drive home. You can not imagine how I felt. Grandpa was a car man. He knew about cars, took care of cars, and was going to let his fifteen-year-old grandson drive his prize position. This man who showed very little emotion showed his softer side.
I was in Owensville, Missouri during my first year of teaching when my dad called and told me I had better head up to Kansas City. My grandfather was having heart surgery and he wanted me there. I loaded up my wife and we headed out. As I entered the hospital I was greeted by the news he had passed away during surgery. I had lost another part of who I was and the world was a little sadder place because he was gone.
My grandfather was buried next to my grandmother, which is where he belonged. Several years later my father showed me a painting he had purchased showing a man and woman in the clouds. I was the only one who saw what he did his mother and father in heaven.
That brings me to Pa. Freddie Fairbanks Burrington is my mother's father. He was a man of many talents. His middle name reflects some relation to Douglas Fairbanks Jr. While his namesake was well known, Pa came from simple upbringing and a large family. It was so large that he would often tell me he didn't know chickens had any parts other than backs and necks. After all, that was all he got at the dinner table. In his family the workers ate first, the adults next, and the kids last. Being next to the youngest, he was even lower on the totem pole. Perhaps that is where he developed his servant attitude. It may also be why he didn't care for fowl later in life.
Pa worked on the family farm as a young man learning the value of a dollar and the value of family. He later worked in a grocery store, but what I remember most were the years he worked at Burchfield's Music Store. Pa sold instruments, repaired them and tuned them. If you could blow it, pluck it, or strum it, he could fix it. I can still picture him sitting at his bench at the store repairing a clarinet or in his basement rebuilding a piano that looked more like a pile of kindling.
I remember the time he took me on a job to replace the front, back and center row felts in an old upright. If you're not sure what this requires, you have to take all the keys off, pull out the old felts replace them and put the keys back. Most people know there are 88 keys on the piano, what you may not know is that there is an order. My job was to pull the keys off and place them on the floor. I did just that. I pulled them off as carefully as a child opening a birthday present and tossed them on the floor.
I learned a few things that day. Keys on a piano are a lot like a jigsaw puzzle and my Pa was a very understanding man. A job that should have taken a couple of hours took somewhat longer. Pa just smiled as if grateful for the extra time he spent with me.
Pa was never too busy to say a prayer for someone, or read his Bible. He taught Sunday school and ran the radio program for the worship service until technology took over. He would sit in his Volkswagen Bug and listens to the service to make sure it was coming through and then come in and turn off the little light to let the past know he was off the air. He was elected Deacon Emeritus before he died. He was very proud of the plaque the church gave him, and kept it in his room next to his bed.
Pa's funeral seems like yesterday. Granny asked if I would carry his casket. I was a little reluctant, but if she wanted me to, I would. The service
was perfect. The minister brought a smile to everyone's face with some of my grandfather's sayings. He recalled the first time they met. My grandfather introduced himself by telling him "Son I have socks older than you."
I don't need things to remember Pa but I still have an old Santa he put up every Christmas. When I take it out of its box a small tear and a gentle smile come over me.
That brings me to Granny. She still lives in Warrensburg, Missouri. Thought she is frail, she still gets a twinkle in her eye when she has company, and her voice has a little lilt in it when you call. Dorris Nancy Lee Moyer was the perfect wife for my Pa. She was his rock.
I remember she was always ill. Not so she couldn't do things with us, but Granny was never in perfect health. Pa would tell people, "Someday you will be at my funeral and hear people say, she was always the sick one." How prophetic he was.
Granny always made sure no one ever went hungry at her house. She could cook. She would often tell us she loved cooking for people that liked to eat. I like to eat. Most of us had to sit at a kid's table during large family meals. Granny would make sure everyone sat at the big table. My place was always to her left. She loved family as much as anyone and looked forward to the times we could all gather for a meal.
Granny seemed to be the one to look out for the grandkids. My mom's side of the family likes to play cards. Hearts and pitch were the games of choice. As I got older I would be invited to play every so often. Granny was always my partner. She seemed to enjoy helping the youngest learn the game. If I do say, she was a pretty good teacher. Cards are not as important today, as the family is without Pa and Granny doesn't feel like playing.
One other thing I remember about Granny was that I always had to sit next to her in church. The only times I did not was when I was helping Pa or singing in the choir. Sitting next to Granny was an interesting experience. Just try and fall asleep in church next to my Granny. It only happened once. She is not able to get to church any more, so I don't sit next to her except in her home when I visit.
So what have I gained from my grandparents? Patience, a caring attitude, respect for my elders, work ethic, the love for family and for God.
Proverbs 17:6 Children's children are a crown to the aged, and parents are the pride of their children.
As a postscript to this reflection, I was able to sit next to my Granny one last time on October 24. I held her hand as she lay in bed at the nursing home. She passed away on October 29. On that day I aged more than a single day. I no longer had earthly grandparents; I would no longer be called someone's grandson for each of my grandparents was enjoying their reward in heaven. Although the thought is comforting, the pain is still real and the loss is just as great.