I want to tell you a story about my grandpa, a man we affectionately called Pop.
Growing up, my family had the funny habit of kissing each other on the lips. Our roots are in Newfoundland, the weather-beaten island off the coast of Eastern Canada, more British than North American really and maybe it’s common custom there. I don’t really know, I’ve never found out, but at any rate it’s what we did growing up.
I was playing outside one day with an elementary school friend when we watched a Chevy Astro lumber down the street and pull into my driveway. The big brown van, as unmistakable as the Ark of the Covenant, carried a treasure of equal importance. My grandparents, Nan and Pop.
As I watched my Nan and Pop climb out of the van—and make no mistake, you did climb out of a van that big—a plan formed in my twelve-year old brain. I turned to my friend and told him that he should run over with me and greet my grandparents. He agreed and stifling a laugh we ran down the street and up onto my front lawn.
When Nan and Pop spotted me and my friend, a boy they’d met before, I stood back, smiled, and pushed my friend forward. Right into my Pop’s puckered lips. My friend half-turned to me, a look of sheer bewilderment on his face, as Pop landed a heavily-moustached kiss right on my friend’s lips.
It’s exactly what I knew would happen and I burst into a peel of laughter as my friend turned a bright shade of red and we ran off down the street.
In hindsight, it was exactly the kind of awkward thing that you’d do as a prepubescent boy, land your friend on the receiving end of a kiss-on-the-lips from your moustached grandpa. Later, I got a sucker punch to the gut from that same friend, payback, but we still laughed about it for days. It was one of those things boys do growing up, you tease your friends, you become slightly uncomfortable with displays of affection, and sometimes the two can coalesce into just the perfect moment in time and space.
A moment, it turns out, you never forget.
I am so grateful for this memory and I can, so many years later, still picture it as clear as day. As clear as I can picture the faces of my children when they’re not in the room.
I thank God for that.
And that the memory is so illustrative, so encapsulating.
I know we all have different ways of remembering people, we all have our own unique perspectives and encounters and opinions of people, but for me, that was Pop.
Generous, compassionate, and affectionate to such a stretch that it was nothing, a non-event, to plant a great big kiss on the lips of my elementary school friend. And as funny as we thought it was, how brilliantly my plan was executed, it just goes to show the kind of person he was.
That he would give a kiss to a friend of mine. That I knew he would. That that’s the kind of person he was.
There is something disarming, and beautiful, and holy about a person like that. I do believe.
I never saw Pop get mad, not really. Surely he did. After all, I have only one perspective on him and he was not perfect, I know. But I did not see that side and if he had it, he hid it from his grandchildren well. And this, too, is something to admire. To know a man, regardless of his many moods, as kind and patient and full of affection is a gift.
I am grateful, for Pop’s 96 years on earth, for the 34 that I knew him, and for the rich legacy he has left behind. I am a part of that legacy, willing or not. I carry on his name (so does my own father and my son) and that name carries the weight of the man who carried it before me. I carry that and it must be, daily, a decision to carry it well. To walk into the world with that nearly unlimited affection, kindness, and generosity every single day is the legacy that I have in front of me.
That I must decide to pursue. That I must choose.
To leave that kind of legacy in my own wake is something that will take an extraordinary amount of work. I am not, by nature, an affectionate and calm and patient person but, likely, neither was Pop. We’re cut from the same cloth after all. It was, more likely than not, something he chose too.
I hope, of all the things that I can be, of all the choices that I can make, this is something I too can choose. That God gives me the strength to pursue it and to someday embarrass my own grandkids with my absurd abandon to generosity, affection, and kindness. That one day I might be the sort of Pop that wouldn’t even blink when given the opportunity to plant a kiss on the lips of my grandson’s unsuspecting friend.
That I would be that kind of person.
Rest in peace, Albert Little. We love you very much, Pop.