A Note To My Grandchildren
It’s May 2, 2014 and at this point in my life, I don’t have any grandchildren. Just three wonderful teenage daughters who still are trying to figure out who and what they’re going to be in this world. Many days, even like today at my age of 48, I’m still trying to decide that myself. This morning in Arlington, I had breakfast with my long time friend and mentor, Ron Rose, and he began telling me about a work he’s writing and that prompted me to take on this simple task: Writing A Note To My Grandchildren.
But at this writing, the thing is, I do not have any grandchildren. That doesn’t matter, the Internet will be alive and well when I do and this will be cached away somewhere in cyber space for each to find and to ponder.
My Great-Grandparents, Clarence and Mamie Claxton are buried in Athens, Alabama, where they lived hard and raised many children. I go to the main cemetery in Athens anytime I’m in town to pay them my respects. Sometimes I leave my current business card on their headstone. I always say a prayer and talk to them, even though I only met my great grandmother “Momma Claxton” once that I can actually remember. We sat on her porch there in Athens with her while she shucked peas, I think.
I know so little about them and their lives. I don’t know about their sacrifices or what a normal day was like. Knowing how we Claxtons have been, they were honest and hardworking. Maybe an aunt or two of mine could tell me more, but nonetheless, this is all I remember about the Claxton side.
Of my mom’s side, I remember my great grandmother on Mom’s side, we called her Granny, and my grandpa’s mom, who could only speak Czech, we called Baba. Granny was Swedish and I remember visiting her apartment in Hobart, Indiana when we would pass thru between moves. She always seemed to have those powdered candy breath mints at her house. That was nice.
My own grandparents, Andy and Joyce Sheptak, my mom’s parents, were hard working. Grandpa was an artist and there’s a wooden carving portrait I’m sure one of your mom/aunts now have. It kind of looks like a heart and it’s a family treasure. If one of you ever get to have it, treasure it.
Grandpa Andy wrestled with his liquid demons throughout his life but he was a great grandpa. Grandma Sheptak got bad arthritis in her latter days and died three months after your twin aunts/mom(s) were born in 1999.
Grandma Sheptak was always telling jokes. I called her on the phone all the time throughout my life and have dearly missed her being gone each and every day. In the years after she left us, I was able to draw closer to Grandpa. There were times when he would just cry. Once he said he tried some of the pain medicine she had been taking and later told his doctor he’d done so. His doctor helped Grandpa understand how strong the meds she was on really were. That greatly helped him let go of her and understand she no longer was in pain.
We buried your Great-Great-Grandpa Claxton on Sept. 10, 2001. That night, I flew back from Northern Indiana to Dallas not thinking anything significant about flying. The next day was 9/11 and I was glad to not have been stuck as I would have been away from your mom/aunts. As I write this, your dear, dear Great-Great-Grandma Claxton’s mind is withering away in the dark years of life. She was such a positive influence on me. She would bake. Made me Play Do from scratch once. And she taught me Southern delicacies like how to make gravy and chicken and dumplings. I never learned how to make her biscuits from scratch. I’m sorry. That would have been something good to have passed on.
My dad, your Great-Grandfather, still is alive, too. He’s a retired USAF B-52 pilot who helped bring to life me, three great uncles and a great aunt. My dad spent much of his career on alert in Northern Michigan ready to go attack the USSR, or he was flying, and later, in Montgomery, AL, he worked at the prestigious Air War College. He was great at military history and planning. He was happiest when he was flying. After he got out of the Air Force, he got a teaching certificate to teach high school kids algebra. He enjoyed it, but kids didn’t really want to learn and he wanted to travel.
My mom, your Great-Grandmother, raised the five of us. When your great Aunt Kim got old enough, your Great-Grandmother earned her nursing degree and then spent 20 years working at the ER in the VA in Montgomery, Alabama. She got a bunch of grandkids all of a sudden in the 1990s and insisted on being called “Be Bop.” I have no idea why, but it stuck. If you ask your mom/aunts, they will light up when you say the name. I promise. Even with her in Alabama and them mostly growing up in Texas, Bop still had a positive impact on their lives and they each loved her greatly.
So what was the point of all that? Simple. You now have some context of your family that’s probably not written down anywhere else and probably won’t be spoken about much when you’re reading this. I wish I had this about my Great-Great-Grandparents, so please regard this as a special treasure that I learned needed to be left behind because it was not left behind for me.
There’s a 2013 movie called People Like Us, and in it, the lead character offers a young boy in it the six secrets to a happy life that were left to him by his father in the movie.
I’m going to repeat them for you here now:
The Six Rules
1. If you like something because you think other people are going to like it, it’s a sure bet no one will.
2. Most doors in the world are closed, so if you find one that you want to get into, you damn well better have an interesting knock.
3. Everything that you think is important, isn’t. Everything that you think is unimportant, is.
4. Don’t s*** where you eat.
5. Lean into it. The outcome doesn’t matter. What matters is that you were there for it, whatever it is – good or bad.
6. Don’t sleep with people who have more problems than you do
These rules are simple and clear. They don’t need a lot of extra explaining. If you need some help with them, I suggest a conversation with your mom/Aunt Chandler. She and I have talked about them. Hopefully I will have time with the twins before it’s too late.
I don’t know if we ever will get the chance to meet, but I pray daily that we do. I also want to encourage you to keep an open mind about your mom, dad, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles. And your grandparents.
People at no matter what point in human history will make mistakes. Some of us fall into holes. There will be some days and some holes so deep you might think it’d be easier to reach up out of it and pull the dirt in on top of you. Other days it will feel like people, even the ones you thought were helping you, are tossing the dirt in on top of you on purpose.
Family members seem to get at odds with each other so easily and so often over the simplest of things.
Sadly, as a parent yourself many days from now, you will have to experience the tension of not talking to your mom, your dad, a brother, a sister, a son, a daughter, a grand child, etc.
Trust me. It will happen. And when it does, I encourage you to keep loving them and say and particularly write as few harsh words about them as you might. It’s going to be hard and it’s going to hurt, but keep praying for them and believing that in the end, someone is going to turn a corner and come around. And if it needs to be you who turns the corner, do it when the time is right.
We all get forced to grow up faster and faster with each changing generation. I can not bare to think of the challenges and world you will have to face.
Trust your faith. I have done what I can to instill it in your mom/aunts. But ultimately know how they relate to God is in their own way and as a parent, all I can do, and all they can do, is point a child in a direction we would hope they would go. Forcing doesn’t work. I’ve seen it and there are people still alive who might read this and think I was talking about them, so I shall stop there.
Live your life honestly. Work hard. And fight like the Devil for what you believe in. The one thing people cannot take away from you in this life is your personality and your integrity. It is your job to protect both. They can pour cold water on your ideas and maybe even hold you back from time-to-time, but I encourage you to get back up and keep going. We Claxtons have seldom just had anything spectacular given to us. It’s been all work. I’m sure life is going to be very much the same for you. And remember, even if we were able to amass millions, in the end, we’re not taking any of it anywhere with us.
I’ve told your mom/aunts multiple times that Grandpa isn’t/wasn’t going to pay for any weddings for them until they each had/have set foot on at least three continents, worked in their own job, finished college and been on their own for a while. The order those things happen in is up to them, but to my dying day, I shall be suggesting the same thing to them and hopefully them to you, too. Not doing those things is going to lead to avoidable failures, but you’ll also find, some people just have to make failures in order to actually learn something.
My lineage ends with your mom/aunts because I wasn’t fortunate in God’s plan to have a biological son. So carrying on my legacy is left in a diluted way to you. Know always, even as I write this in 2014, that I loved you very much, whether we are ever able to meet or not. There are many a days when I feel the presence of my three retired grandparents upon me, much as though you might feel a warm breeze touching your face as you view the passing sun at the end of the day.
I’ve asked your mom/aunts some day to leave my ashes off the beaten path near the Sentinel Dome area of Yosemite National Park in California, the side facing off toward Half Dome. To me, there is no prettier place on this earth and if you put me in a box some six feet under, I won’t be there anyways, for I shall do all in what cosmic power I have left to lift my spirit to that point anyway. Yes, I hope to be in the Heavens with our Lord, but what’s left of the physical me should be left where I have longed to spend the breadth of my days but was not able to.
Never let go of the beauty God has put into this world. Your mom/aunts can mimic for you how I would get excited about the beauty and power of the morning light, particularly at Yosemite, as beams of radiant energy from the sun pierced the treetop veil over the rocks and nature below. And as you sit along the water way at the foot of Bridalveil Fall and hear the rushing of the cold spring rapids racing toward the Merced, know that my spirit also will be there encouraging you to slow down, to stop, to breathe deeply and enjoy the beauty of what God has left us all.
Thanks for reading. I love you and your mom/aunts more than words here can tell. Love them back for me.
Grandpa “Daddy Claxton”