The Yes-Man

By Pam Hawley

“Yes” and “No” were the ones he used the most. Yes, he’d like the back yard mowed. No, he didn‘t want spaghetti for dinner. The third word was a four-letter one he reserved for when “no” didn’t just mean “no,” but “not in a million years!”

Now, I was talking with a preacher in a funeral home in a rural town in West Virginia, my heart aching and my legs and back still cramped from our four-hour drive to get there. Although Granddad had lived most of his adult life in Baltimore, we all knew he’d want to come home at the end. That’s where we had taken him.

The room was full of family I hadn’t seen in years and the cloying smell of flowers. I couldn’t help but think that my grandfather, who had never liked being the center of attention or wearing suits, was wishing he wasn’t at the front of that room. He’d rather be sitting outside on the steps with my great-uncle, talking in short man-sentences about hunting, fishing and football while the wives and daughters chattered on like magpies inside.

The preacher smiled encouragingly, his blue eyes kind and crinkled at the corners. I felt a soothing warmth and comfort in those eyes, but what he was asking of me still made my stomach lurch.

“Your Granddad didn’t live here, so I never had the pleasure of getting to know him. I think it would be nice to have someone who knew him well say a few words too. Your grandmother said you would be the best one to do it.”

Of course she did. My grandfather was the quiet one in the family, I am the word weaver. I write daily and give public speeches as part of my job. Like my grandmother herself, I can be a chatterbox. As a little girl, I traveled to West Virginia with my grandparents on the weekends. Granddad drove, and Grandmom and I would talk and sing through the entire trip. When we’d try to get Granddad to join in, he’d just say “umm-hmm,” or “nuh-uh,” his eyes focused on the road.

I’d giggle, call him “Grumpy” and tweak his mustache as soon as we were out of the car.

He’d listened to me prattle on for years, and now the minister wanted me to give him one more dose of my chatter.

“You don’t have to say yes,” my mom said gently. It wasn’t that she didn’t want someone to vocalize our family’s love for Granddad. She just knew that Granddad would understand if the sudden request was more than I could handle.

I looked away from the minister and the hopeful eyes of my grandmother and lost myself in thoughts for a moment: Granddad spending long days by a river with a bag of sandwiches and a fishing pole. Granddad in his garden, tending his tomatoes. Granddad in his garage workshop, building me a dollhouse, or a backyard swing for my mom and grandmother. Granddad showing up to pick me up from work when I had no other way home, even though he’d just finished a long day at his own job. Granddad spending his precious Saturdays running my grandmother from department store to department store, contenting himself with a ballgame on the car radio since he wouldn’t be getting out with his fishing buddies. Granddad driving to my house every day for a week to tend my menagerie of pets while I vacationed and not uttering a word of complaint when one of my ferrets had the audacity to crawl up his pants leg.

After the stroke, Granddad said “no” an awful lot. But before it, his answer had always been “yes.”

He didn’t tell long stories or give advice or express his feelings in words. He didn’t have to. Someone who spends their whole life dropping everything for those he loves, even when what they’re asking is more of a want than a need, has already told you how much he loves you without opening his mouth. Someone who takes joy in building beautiful and personal things that he knows will make his wife and child and grandchildren happy doesn’t need a mushy card to go with the gift.

The way granddad lived his life could be summed up in one word – “yes.” Yes, I am here for you. Yes, I care enough to help you. Yes, the world is a beautiful place, if you know how to walk quietly through it instead of disturbing its peace. See?

My eyes blurred with tears, but I met the kindly minister’s gaze and took a deep breath. I had made my decision.

My mom was right. Granddad would completely understand if I didn’t walk up to that podium and speak. He already knew I would carry him in my heart forever.

But when those he loved needed something, he stepped up to the plate. He didn’t need my words, but my grandmother did, and perhaps my father and my aunts and uncles and his old high school buddies did, too. I realized that understanding this had not only helped me come to my decision, but had given me the words about Granddad that needed to be said.

I put a hand on my grandmother’s shoulder and smiled at the minister, who was patiently awaiting my answer and trying not to put pressure on me through the hope in his own eyes.

“Yes,” I said.

My speech came from the heart, and I think Granddad would have liked it. But nothing I said afterwards summed him up better than that one word.

About this writer

  • Pam Hawley Pam Hawley is a humor, essay and short fiction writer from Baltimore, Maryland. Her work has appeared in eFiction Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Here Comes the Bride, and Sasee. She also blogs at http://likeadogblog.wordpress.com.

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10 Responses to “The Yes-Man”

  1. Lynn Obermoeller says:

    Your Granddad sounds like a wonderful man.

  2. Pam, what a moving story, and a wonderful gift you presented at the funeral.

  3. Debbie Condron says:

    Pam, I know how hard and painful it must have been to say “Yes” to this request. I also know by saying it how proud you made your mom, dad, Mom Mom, sister and niece who were present in that room. I am also quite sure the rest of Grand Dads’ family and friends were equally as proud as you walked up there in front of everyone and spoke from your breaking heart. I was not there, sadly, but I too cannot help but to be proud of you also. But more importantly, the best thing you can take away from that moment in that room full of such sorrow, was the fact that the person whom you made the proudest, was none other than Grand Dad himself. You are truly a remarkable person which is why I am so glad to call you my friend and Fly Sister. I Love you………

    • Pam says:

      Thank you my Fly Sista! Like him, you have been one of my sources of inspiration and good sense almost as long as I can remember! I am very blessed in terms of the wonderful people in my life : ).

  4. l'empress says:

    What a gift, to have had your grandfather in your life! I loved your description.

    • Pam says:

      Thank you l’empress! And thank you also for all the wise words you’ve shared with me over our many years of being journaling friends!

  5. Maura Troy says:

    Oh, Pam, what a moving tribute. How lucky you are to have had such a wonderful person in your life. And How lucky he was to have someone like you to appreciate the generous soul that he was.

    • Pam says:

      Thank you Maura! Yes, I believe the biggest blessing that any of us can have in our lives, regardless of our other joys and sorrows, are the people we share our journeys with, and I’ve been fortunate to share mine with amazing companions like my Grandad. Thank you for reading and very nice to “meet” you!

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