Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Speaking of Heroes

William Duxbury was an incredible man...and to boot I had the honor of calling him Grandpa.
My sister, Mary and I lost our beloved Grandpa on December 10th 1988...20 years ago.

My memories of him are somewhat softened by the lens of childhood and the passage of time but my heart is still full of as much love as I had for him then.

When I was a little girl making Grandpa smile or getting his attention was tops on my list. He was a quiet man who was bright and loving and when he said something you listened. I watched others all around me who respected my Gramps...marvelling at his wisdom in so many areas of life. He was in his own simple kind way larger than life to me.

Mary and I were his only grandkids...and his pride was obvious whenever he showed us off. Boy, did he make you feel loved. He was a man of few words most of the time. The exact opposite of his two spritish grandchildren sometimes jabbering even through mealtime.
He'd quietly say "Let your meat stop your mouth." And he'd smile while he tinked his spoon round his coffee cup. You loved him for the way he said it...it was never harsh.

Grandpa was the one who taught me to swim. He spent many hours in the summer with me swimming up at the lake. He gently instructed me and showed me the crawl, demonstrated the proper way to turn my face just so in the water. He didn't just watch me swim. He'd say 'watch this' and swim past me like a man twenty years younger. Then he'd tell me to try. And I would. I wanted nothing more than to hear him say "that's a good job, Leah" and when I got it right he would. This would be just about the time Grandma would come over the hill, telling us both dinner was ready. The sun would be going down.

Grandpa's vote of confidence was like a special prize and I always won it. He was proud of me trying and wanting to succeed. Mary and I were both water lovers but he used to call me a fish. He'd grown up poor and taught himself to swim as a kid. That's just the way he was. His whole life if he wanted to do something he just set about doing it, learning it. He never seemed to fear anything and I wanted to be just like him. And so though I received swimming lessons from a professional instructor when I was a kid, I'll always consider my Gramps my one true coach.

About 3 years after my Grandpa's death (he died when I was 11 years old) I joined the newly formed swim team at school. Our school had only recently built the indoor pool, everything about it was showroom new, so I was joining an experimental breed of school athletes...and I was fearful at first.

The night of my first swim meet much to my delight, my Grandma was up in the stands with my parents and sister. They were in for a show, I thought. I'd not mastered a graceful entrance into the pool, afterall I was a lake swimmer, so when they spotted me begin my event it must have been a sight.I was one big plunky splash. But I swam like there was a shark at my heels with a kinesthetic memory of each stroke, each breath and powerful push. It was written there and had remained...because of my Grandpa. When I hit the touchpad one of my teammates leaned down into the pool to tell me, inexperienced as I was, that I had actually won my event. I started to gasp harder and tears formed. My disbelief was overshadowed by a soft and silent wish. I wish he'd been there to see me do it. To see his little fish beat all those other kids who might have had fancy lessons or gone to schools that had afforded pools in their budgets many many years before. And Grandma took pride in hearing me say that this win was for Grandpa.

I didn't get the chance to be the athlete I'd wanted to be in high school. My illness deferred that dream. But in a strange parallel line my Grandfather had lost out on his own pursuit of athletic identity. As a young man he'd earned his shot at college through football only to lose it all after an injury during a game. A bright student, he'd had to leave Alfred because once football was over so too, was his tuition break. A college degree was not in the cards. But Willy did not despair because some bends in the road are just meant to be. He met my grandmother not long after he returned home.

He taught me by example that life is not about perfection or having the best of all things, and the best circumstances. He showed that life was about rolling with the punches and never carrying a chip on your shoulder if it didn't work out your way. I know that no matter what--- my Grandpa would have delighted in whatever it was that I gave to the world.

To him, Mary and I were bright stars...and his pride was in what we could do...and that made our lives enriched. Love, acceptance and a kind gentle spirit. William Duxbury was my grandfather...and twenty years after he left this earth he is still with me. His lessons and his love are imprinted on my heart forever.

In Loving Memory of William Duxbury 1912-1988


kirsten said...

Leah, your grandpa sounds like a wonderful guy, the kind of grandpa everyone should have.

Mary said...

After several tissue breaks I was able to read this. All of it is so true. I wish we could have had more time with him, but I will always remember what time we did have. I miss him so much!

Sally (Leah's Mom) said...

Wow, you really have caught the essence of my dad! His family was the most important thing in the world to him!! He would be very proud of you (Leah) and Mary now; just like he was proud of both of you when you were little. You're right that he always had a special sort of glint in his eye when he was with his granddaughters. I still miss him too!

Sarah said...

I stumbled upon this entry from your link on Facebook...wow, you are a truly gifted writer. The picture you painted of your grandfather was wonderful. Thank you for triggering memories of my own grandparents, all of whom I've lost over the years. I'm looking forward to reading more...

Anonymous said...

Leah's Dad here.... Yes Leah he was a special man and you've prompted many memories I have and cherish of him. Whenever I hear a spoon in a coffe cup jingle I think of him. There is no greater tribute to give a departed one than to remember them. Sharing it with others is better yet. Good choice of a picture to post as well. I can see the love and joy in your face and stature as you knew you were being photographed with him. Many thanks, and KEEP WRITING! Dad

Anonymous said...

Ann (Leah's Aunt) said

Truly a beautifully written story of a man I most admired too - MY DAD and written by a beautiful person - MY NIECE.

BJD said...

Leah, you really are a wonderful writer and a very special person. You have the ability of really finding the best in all people. Grandpa was very special to all of us. Many times, I look back in Grandpa daily reminder and find some wonderful store about you and your sister Mary. He would be so proud of both of you.
Love you,
Aunt Betty