Category: Family (page 1 of 1)


I posted this elsewhere and on Twitter first, but it also belongs here on the Anon-a-Blog.

Why my pew has been empty since 1982: A long thread for anyone who may be interested, et al. Perhaps someone may relate or need to hear. Inspired by @C_Stroop and #EmptyThePews on Twitter.

It starts in 1975. I’m 12. A budding little gay boy. At the C. of the Naz., we get a spiffy little sermon, which runs like this: “Speaking in tongues is evidence of demonic possession!!!” Amens, claps, whistles, “Kill the Devil!”

Fast forward a week later. Someone in charge of our family’s spiritual development decides to follow info bestowed by the Holy Spirit
Fairy, an entity which seems to act rather … impetuously. Or at least that was my experience with Him.

The Spirit has moved someone that we must immediately abandon the C. of the Naz., where, remember, I’ve just been told on the authority of the church into which I was born and raised that speaking in tongues is evidence of demonic possession.

[An aside: 12-year-old me had memorized the 1960 Church Manual so I could know how to perform weddings and funerals because … get this … I thought I would become a C. of the Naz. preacher.]

Given a choice about which church to attend would have been lovely. Alas, it was not to be. I was the young, stupid child who couldn’t possibly be trusted to know what was good for him, spiritually speaking. At best, a “baby Christian.” (These buzzwords sound familiar?)

Actually, after just one hour of being exposed to the new church’s … shall we say, bizarreness and cultish overtones … I’m confident I would have scurried back underneath the skirts of the mother church (of the Naz.) if I had a driver’s license and a car. But I didn’t.

So I wasn’t given a choice. Remember the previous sermon, supposedly delivered by a stern God to CotN Leaders possessed of “Utter Sanctification” and who are therefore qualified to speak on subjects Most Weighty: “Speaking in tongues is evidence of demonic possession!”

Again, I was 12 years old. Puberty was dawning. Teenage outrage, hatred of hypocrisy, self-righteousness, inflated sense of injustice, and general all-around questioning and boundary-pushing are imminent. I needed constancy. But the Spirit had spoken and must be obeyed.

The next Sunday, we don’t drive over to be with the sanctified who hate devilish tongue-speaking. Instead, we head straight for the new church, an Assembly of God knockoff/alleged “non-denominational.” “We’re going here from now on,” says Parental Dearest.

What happened the first Sunday at the new church to which we had been led by the Holy Spirit? Well, I’ll set the scene one more time: The previous week, the church of my birth told me speaking in tongues is evidence of demonic possession.


Then: The kicker. If I am to understand the main belief point through hours of gibberish, a complete lack of any catechism, no orderly service of any kind, no regular communion, and a multitude of other things, a central belief is this:

“If you do NOT speak in tongues, God is withholding His greatest blessing from you and therefore there is something wrong with you if you don’t immediately babble in tongues in ‘the presence of the Lord.'”

In other words, NOT speaking in tongues was evidence of God withholding his greatest gift from you & you were opening yourself up to … you guessed it, demonic possession. As soon as I hit 16, my pew began to be empty. By 18, only bribery could get me in it. So…bye!

It would take a long thread to describe coming out (yeah, the Spirit got involved there, too), getting away & being an adult in charge of myself & the joys of life since I got myself to #EmptyThePews. Thanks for the inspiration, @C_Stroop and thanks to everyone who read!

Same Here

In Which I Join in on a Hashtag, God Help Me!

There’s this thing that has been closely guarded for going on 40 years in 2018. It’s my secret. So as it hits its 40th birthday in our new year, I decided it’s time to tell the world.


There. It’s out. More is coming.

[Text by HawkEye. Photo by Mihai Surdu via Unsplash.]


Not sure why I’m even noting this, but it did catch my eye. Among the «5,000 most common names according to the 2000 US Census», Frank has a more common surname than I do.

Our names: Lester (his) is 709th, down 111 places, 16 occurrences per 100,000 names. Mine, Pollock, is 1,420th, up 20 places, 9 occurrences per 100,000 names.

Maiden names: My mother’s (Booth) is 635th, down 45, 18 occurrences per 100,000. Frank’s mother’s (Celis) doesn’t show up in the top 5000.

Other names in my family tree:

• Nelson: 40th, down 1, 153 per 100,000.
• Cook: 56th, down 4, 109 per 100,000.
• Gregory: 312th, down 28, 33 per 100,000.
• Norton: 485th, down 19, 23 per 100,000.
• Short: 536th, up 14, 21 per 100,000.
• Starr: 1,135th, down 19, 10 per 100,000.
• Teague: 1,371st, down 99, 9 per 100,000.
• Ketchum: 4,334th, up 374, 3 per 100,000.

Common. Dead common. Ha!

A Phone Call

My sister may have breast cancer.

I don’t know how to respond to her news.

This is not supposed to be happening. Surreal. I don’t want to think about it.

I don’t like all this getting older.

GrUncle Again

Found out today I’ll be a great-uncle for the second time. Kid is due sometime around Nov. 22. I need a rocker, cane and front porch.

A Eulogy for Brooksie Belle Ketchum Booth, My Grandmother (2001)

I wrote the following passages in two separate sections over two separate days.

Part I – 2:00 a.m. San Francisco Time, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2001

The call I was dreading came just ten minutes ago – an unhappy, middle-of-the-night call – word from my exhausted and grief-stricken mother that her mother’s long battle was over and that she was at peace, finally. The call was more than simple news of a passing; it also evoked a curious mixture of grief and relief and joy and tears. Grief that a beloved woman, who was in part responsible for my existence on earth, had reached the end of her long and hard, but fruitful and accomplished life. Grief for the hole torn afresh in my chest, next to the three scars left after the departures of my other three grandparents. Stating a trite obviousness: Losing family is never nice nor easy. I also carry scars because I never had the priviledge of growing up and getting to know my uncles, Leon Ramsey and Jay Pollock. Yet, somehow, there was some relief that the imprisonment of that lively and articulate brain had ended and joy at the thought of all that she must be experiencing right now – in particular, a much-anticipated reunion with her husband and the healing in her heart of the missing of him.

I’m happy for her; but you’ll have to forgive me, I’m also a trifle perturbed – she was, after all, either supposed to hang around a lot longer or at least take me with her. But good for her anyway. I’m really not that selfish. Okay, maybe I am. A grandmother is something truly special, of course. Irreplaceable. And now both of mine are gone. I have a simple question today: How do you breathe after this? My throat was constricted after Mom’s call (it still is), and I relived the nightmares of 1988 and 1992 and 1993 and the loss of the other three grandparents all over again. As a matter of fact, the moment that stops my heart completely this morning is a memory which came rushing back at me with an overwhelming force after Mom’s call: In 1993, when I arrived at Meme’s house that cold January evening and approached Granddad’s bed and Grandma lovingly cradled his head, woke him up and with a big smile said, “Look who’s here! You know who that is?” and Granddad turned his head and lit the room for me with a huge grin and said, “Well of course I do! It’s Stevie!” And then I saw the tears in her eyes as she looked at him and bathed his face with a wet wash cloth, the knowledge that she was about to lose him sneaking up on her inexorably. The love there was suddenly naked and unabashed and I had never seen it quite like that between them before. These were not demonstrative people. Their 60th anniversary kiss was quite a production, as I recall.

I have to belive that, right now, Grandad’s returning the favor for her, welcoming her home, holding her tight as she adjusts to her new freedom. Just think about how she feels. No more pain. No more loneliness. Together again. And best yet, free from her mind prison of the last eight years or more, able to think and speak coherently again, calling him “Daddy” and asking if he still dips snuff, trades cars every two weeks and how many yards has he taken on to mow?

Because that’s the thing. The pain of loss is sharp, but bittersweet since you remember certain happy things and know other things and that makes it okay. In the first place, she deserves the peace and tranquility and family reunions and everything she’s experiencing right now even as we sit around her body, scarcely able to breathe. She earned this. Years of back-breaking labor over the stove, the ironing board, the cotton field, the cash register at the store at Central High. The labor of five pregnancies. And the price she’s paid and the hurt and confusion she’s endured over the last eight years of one of nature’s most cruel diseases – it was intolerable – both for those who were able to see her every day and those of us who were far away from her physically, yet always had her in our thoughts and hearts. Folks, she was unable to look at a picture and call it a picture; it came out that it was a cow. She could say, “Well, there you are!” oftentimes without being able to recognize or articulate who you were. And so now she’s at peace, whole again, rejoined with her husband and other loved ones who went before, rejoined with her mind. Joy unspeakable is hers and who am I to be selfish and piggish and want her here in the flesh? If anyone deserves what’s she experiencing right now, it’s Brooksie, our mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, friend, mentor.

She’s gone. And I personally hate it. I think it stinks. I’m a selfish lil snot. I so want her here. I want the consistancy she represented – she was as immutable and constant as the Rock of Gilbraltar. And sometimes just as stubborn and unafraid to get up in your face if you needed it. Especially if you and your cousin Jeff are playing with the porcelain spinning squirrel in the glass bookcase for the nine-hundredth time that day and she’s told you before and you’re gonna break the thing and then where will you be? I also doubt if she’d much appreciate me referring to her as Brooksie through some of this narrative. I’m sure to hear about that eventually.

Brooksie’s daughter, Janis Wynona, my momma, says I may be about to turn 38, but she is, after all, my mother and she has spoken and I better hop to it. How high, Mom? And if circumstances are just right, I might hear echoes from Wynemia Jenell, Joyce Lee, Patricia Jane and George Oval Jr. Now, do you think that Janis Wynona, daughter of Brooksie Booth, learned how to keep me in line by reading some book? Not on your life. Nope. She and Grandma had me tag-teamed before I was capable of rational thought processes and halfway coordinated motor skills. There is also some limited video evidence that certain aunts knew these skills also, before I could even feed myself, while I was still known as Porky Pig. By the way, I have to report here that grandma’s disciplinary techniques also work on beagles. Not even a halfwitted beagle like my Bayley can mistake the meaning of the phrase, “I brought you into this world and I can take you out,” delivered in my best Grandma Booth voice and intonation. He minds me quite well after that.

Her kids did turn out pretty decent, I s’pose. Meme showed me how to keep an immaculate house, feed hummingbirds and turtles and how to care for others under conditions which might make Mother Theresa sit up and say, “Whoa! No way Joe!” She hasn’t had a hair out of place in my lifetime. And that’s the one thing I can’t possibly hope to emulate her on; my hair hasn’t been in place since day one. I’m just not willing to make that kind of commitment to hairspray or gel. Her generosity of spirit is awe-inspiring.

I’ve written something about Mom, Janis Wynona, but might not be able to read it. Her inner beauty is in fact her inner strength. This is an intelligent woman who sacraficed herself to serve the elderly of her community for over 25 years – she paid a dear price for it, but I promise that there are stars in heaven because of her. She’s saved lives, both figuratively and literally. And it is due to her and Dad that I have everything I have and am who I am. Speaking of Dad, I congratulate him on his good taste in swallowing hard and taking the vow back on April 10, 1955.

Joyce Lee, always the rebel – after all her slogan is, “The South gonna rise again!” taught me to have fun, not take life quite so seriously and, as David Niven says in Please Don’t Eat The Daisies,” “I shall yell tripe! Whenever tripe is served!” Too bad she yells it for the rightwingers and I yell it for the leftwingers, but she’s such a remarkable woman, I can overlook that rather otherwise glaring fault. I shall never forget the day she gave her Herman the Lion monologue followed by the Ladies and Gentlemen speech in the crowded dining room of Mrs. Hap’s Smorgasbord Restaurant in Clovis, NM. I pray for the day when I find that kind of courage.

Patricia Jane also taught me to have a sense of humor, and adventure, but most of all how to survive. Dolly Parton in my favorite movie has the line, “Why when it comes to suffering, that woman is right up there with Elizabeth Taylor!” Her courage and fortitude in the face of some of the cards she’s been dealt in life is an inspiration to us all.

And what can we say about George Oval Jr.? What did he teach me? Well, he showed me, for one thing, how you can beat your nephew at cards by making sure that his back is to a blank TV screen – that way you can read all his cards without him knowing it – until about 25 years later. I grew up thinking I was truly lousy at “Go Fish.” But beyond the silliness, George, Junior, Son, whatever you wanna call him, shows his deep and abiding faith and plays a mean guitar, drives a mean drag racer and taught me how to build models and whittle sticks and play in irrigation ditches. Not to mention those invaluable “Go Fish” lessons. His biggest asset, in my child’s eyes at the time anyway, was that he was big enough to torment my big sisters, thereby freeing up a significant amount of my time, most of which I used burying their cameras and barbies in the back yard. I owe ya, buddy.

Now see, there’s the rub. These people, all of us, are Grandma’s legacy. There are pieces of her in each of the people I’ve just described. They are the fine people they are because of her and granddad. Therefore, her life should be uproariously celebrated. Her death mourned, but her life, full of laughter and joy, celebrated. And the pain of today does heal with time. While there are still moments when I bump up against the scars created by the passing of my grandparents, it’s made easier when Grandpa Pollock’s voice sounds in my head, saying, “Whoooah Steveus!” or I hear Grandma Pollock saying, “Now, Curt!” and laughing over incidents on a vacation trip to Gal-vest-un, as she pronounced it. And hearing Grandad Booth swap stories with Uncle Charlie and Uncle John, then get up, jangle his keys and start talking about the well running – well, it’s just better when I hear their voices like that. It’s also a bit scary when I hear their voices coming out of my mouth, but we won’t go there. Let’s just say that I came by my ranting at political news on TV honestly – Grandpa Pollock’s favorite stock phrase when referring to anyone in Washington DC was “dern fool.” I’ve changed that to “idiots!” but I doubt that, if he was still alive, that anyone else would want to be in the room with us while the news was on.

The aforementioned Dolly Parton in one of my favorite movies says, after the funeral of another character, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion!” Truer words were never scripted for Dolly Parton. I don’t know if it’s my favorite emotion, but the bittersweetness of it helps assuage the grief and lets me breathe again. And that’s why we remember the good times today, the funny times, the echoes of her voice. Her voice is silenced in the physical world, but it lives on immortally in each of us. As a matter of fact, I think I can almost hear her now, telling me to “get on with it, you crazy thang.”

Part II – 28,000 feet over the Central US, aboard United 138, an Airbus A320, bound for Chicago O’Hare International Airport, 12:15-17:00 local, 15 Nov. 2001.

But what about Grandma’s life? She was a quintessential rural 20th century American with feet in both the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries. Consider the events of the span of her life:

At some time in her childhood, possibly while a Serbian national named Gavrilo Princip was officially ringing the curtain down on the 1800s by shooting the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and dooming the new century to perpetual war, and while the killing fields in Flanders were running at full bore, for-real Indians in for-real costumes not made in Hollywood, rode up to the dugout the Ketchum family occupied near Duncan. The menfolk were up at Marlow, cutting firewood, and it was just Hettie and the little ones Dick and Brooksie facing down a couple of braves and their squaws. I’m pretty sure Hettie’s heart was pounding in her chest as she asked what the visitors wanted and was probably fairly concerned at the reply, “This is our land and you must leave.” But the natives rode off and never returned. And maybe quite a few of us sitting here owe our existence to their forbearance. And to Hettie’s brave determination.

Grandma saw two world wars and the infamous depression that would so color their lives. Her father died in 1917, supposedly due to complications as the result of an operation that today would be a 15-minute, out-patient “procedure,” after which you’d probably go ride a horse or play tennis. In other words, she witnessed the greatest and most rapid advances in medical science in human history. She started life in a dugout on an Oklahoma dirt farm, but later watched Walter Cronkite report JFK’s death in Dallas and Apollo 11 touch down on the moon in mankind’s one giant leap. People began flying at Mach 2 in three hours between London and Paris a few short years later.

On a more personal level, my earliest congnizant memories of my grandmother: Out at Dexter, apple butter spread on thick bread slices, the taste of vanilla ice cream from her freezer. Store bought vanilla ice milk. Never tasted the same anywhere else. But at grandma’s at age five – glorious. Her singing while puttering around the kitchen, whippin’ up some red beans and fried taters and cornbread for when Granddad comes in out of the fields. Snippets of conversation, “Well, Stevie, I’ll just tell ye.” The comforting whirring of an electric fan in her bedroom during a nap, a sound which still comforts me and lulls me to sleep every night. My friends think I have a fan fetish; it’s hard to explain that each night I’m able to evoke the security and peace of being five and lying in grandma’s bed with the soothing whirring putting me to sleep by having my own box fan going all night. Other things: The mystery of false teeth. The way my bare legs would stick to her green naughahyde cowboy couch in the hot New Mexico summer afternoon. A dip in the irrigation canal and a refusal, timid child that I was, to take a deeper plunge in the irrigation reservoir. In later years, narratives about Miss McGee and her parrot. I only recall meeting the woman once, but at the time, I possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of her goin’s, doin’s and spendin’s. It was our own personal soap opera, written and narrated by Grandma, with detail so rich no visuals were needed. General Hospital and All My Children may have been on the air longer and have a few Emmys on the shelf, but Grandma’s production of As Miss McGee Turns was a vastly superior and far more fascinating entertainment.

Grandma had some verbal expressions with obscure origins. She said them so often that I’m comforted now when I hear them in my head. She lives clearly and loudly in my memory that way. One example: “Hateful take it!” Well, sweetie, your English major grandson wants to know – what exactly does, “Hateful take it!” mean?! I suppose it’s the verbal equivalent of iodine – at least that’s my best guess. As in: One of the little grandkids falls down – “Well, hateful take it!” A toe is stubbed – “Well, hateful take it!” But whatever it meant, I do suppose it’s preferable to other things that might be said under such circumstances.

She and Granddad both were fond of the following – which has entered the lexicon of family legend, and which I find myself using from time to time. You see, I’m very much like my granddad. I get somewhere and then I’m ready to leave. Sometimes within the same minute. So my friends are sometimes bemused when, after a visit with them, I stand up, stretch, jingle the change in my pocket, and announce, all grandad-like, “Well, I guess I got to get home and turn the well off.” My friends’ expressions are priceless – the word “huh?!” written all over their faces. I know I’m imagining it, but I could swear that the night he died, I heard him whisper, “it’s time to go home and turn off the well.” Or maybe it was that he had to go ‘cause the lights on the car didn’t work. I sincerely hope God’s been allowing him control of the pumps over the last nine years and that there’s a rousing trade in automobiles up there.

I really can’t imagine the need for cars in heaven, but if there are (and I hope for Grandad’s sake that there are), I’m wondering how many he has traded for over the last nine years. Last Wednesday morning in heaven, after the reunion, Grandma undoubtedly had some comments to make about his latest acquisition, calling him “Daddy” and wondering why, if the battery was dead, didn’t he get a new battery instead of a whole new car.

And now I’m now sitting aboard an Airbus Industrie A320, a technological marvel of engineering and physics, flying at 500 miles per hour 28,000 feet above California’s newly whitened Sierra Nevada, headed for Chicago O’Hare, a flight of just three-and-a-half hours in duration, 1,843 miles in airconditioned comfort, being served a, well, United Airlines called it a “meal,” a dubious appellation, yet enough to keep you from passing out from hunger prior to landing. And we didn’t have to stop at the filling station en route; the gas tanks are huge and the potty’s actually right in the plane! To us, mundane. To my grandmother, a contemporary of Wilbur and Orville Wright, miraculous. She was 14 when Lindbergh flew the Atlantic solo, an achievement that was so mind-boggling and thought not to be within the realm of reality.
Not that any of this impressed her; I think the miracle of ice cream in an electric freezer, or television or an automatic washing machine were far more impressive for her. And she certainly would not have stepped foot on United 138 with me; her philosophy was pretty straightforward: When asked if she ever had the desire to fly, the reply was invariably, “Naw sir, don’t believe that I do.” When pressed, you might hear, “That’s for folks ain’t got a lotta sense.” Same as saying, “If God wanted me to fly, I’d have wings ‘twixt my shoulder blades.”

Well, honey, I’ve got news for you. Look over your shoulder. God does want you to fly – he wants you to soar, free and unfettered – no more fear and trepidation and no more worrying ‘bout what the neighbors might say. Just joy unspeakable … finally, joy unspeakable.

Finally, there was something that she would say, over the last few years before the onset of Alzheimer’s, just to me, especially if she saw me dressed up: “Well! How ‘bout you and me a-steppin’ out tonight?”

Sweetie, I’ll step out with you any day, any time, any place. You keep a space on your heavenly dance card open for me, will ya? I’ll be honored.

And, by the way. Thanks for giving life to my mother, and by extension to me. And all the rest of your progeny. A great woman you are and a great woman my mother is. I’ve been all over the world and there’s not a better mother or a better grandmother anyplace on the planet. And we owe much to you for that.
I love you very much. So long and thanks for everything. See ya soon, sweetie.

Love, Steve, who is proud to be your grandson.

A Memory of My Grandfather (2001)

I am inordinately proud of all my grandparents, proud of their heritage and what they did and gave to us. All of them worked extremely hard under difficult circumstances to bring, in their own way, the basics of life, love and happiness to their families. We enjoy the blessed lives we have in no small part due to their sacrifice, courage and matter-of-fact commitment to making a better life for us.

My grandfathers, both, were awe-inspiring men. Flawed (charmingly, not fatally), down to earth; loved to laugh and loved life, didn’t put up with any baloney. Their gifts to us, both in genetics and memories, are legion. From my father’s dad, I got my bad eyesight, an impatience for ignorance in high places and the mouth to jaw about it – plus loyalty, integrity and an occasional impish sense of humor. And from my mom’s dad, the sweeter side of my nature, a dedication to work and friends and family and a wanderlust par excellence – plus a propensity to trade cars far more often than is healthy to the bank account. He was George Oval Booth, Sr., affectionately known as “Buck,” to his family and friends, and “Granddad” to his grandchildren. And he was the measure of a successful man.

Time has a way of healing all wounds, softening all memories, but I can honestly say that my memories of Granddad don’t need softening much. When it came to us grandkids, Grandad was always in good humor. I never remember him being short or ill-tempered with us (perhaps he softened up as he got older). I remember his laugh, and his sweet smile. I remember the smell of his snuff and the feel of his somewhat boney shoulders as you hugged him, shoulders and a back bowed and bent after decades of hard scrabble in the tough soils of west Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma, earning a living for his wife and five children. I remember drinking water out of his empty snuff glasses on hot days while playing in the hot New Mexico sun. And I certainly remember his singing, particularly, “Won’t It Be Wonderful There?,” the song that Aunt Joyce always thought was about her because it contained the line, “Joyously singing, with heartbells all ringing,” which she thought Granddad was singing, “Joyce Lee singing …”

And that wanderlust. I certainly remember his pacing, and jangling of change, and his excuses to get back home after a visit (“We got to get home and turn the well off”), even if they had only been there for a short time. I remember that mainly because it lives on in me. I can fully appreciate his sometimes acute need; the fun is in the journey, in the departure, in the moving from point to point, not the actual stay, which, while enjoyable in itself, means having to keep still, at which he and I both aren’t much good. This wanderlust is legendary in the family; mom and the sisters remember quite vividly leaving Roswell late on a Saturday afternoon after work, driving the 450 miles to Duncan, only to return late on Sunday night and be at work at sunup Monday morning. It was the only way he could see his family, particularly his mother, but there was certainly an element of restlessness to it, of always wanting to be on the go, the so-called “thrill of the open road.” I know, because I feel it keenly myself today, and think of him and smile when it happens to me. My friends are sometimes understandably confused when I stand up and stretch and say, “I got to get home and turn the well off.”

Granddad went through the entire lineup of automobiles produced in Detroit between the time he was old enough to drive and that final Oldsmobile in the ‘80s. Well, maybe not, but it certainly seemed that way at the time, particularly to my grandmother, Brooksie, who pretty much never knew what was going to be in the driveway and whether the key on her keychain was going to fit the ignition of whatever hot deal was sitting out in the sun. He was the quintessential American in that way; his car was his identity in some ways. It was a source of pride and pleasure – something to show for the hard work on the seat of the tractor. And hey, if a new car got a rise outta Brooksie, it was probably a secret little bonus for him. For some reason, I remember particularly a dark red Ford Torino in the ‘70s, and a journey through north Texas when he and Grandma took my cousins Jeff and Jami and I to Sherman, Texas, sweating in the hot back seat. This particular deal didn’t include an air conditioner. That car gave way to another in fairly short order.

His storytelling was often fascinating; one that sticks in my mind is most certainly aprocryphal, especially in light of subsequent research into the family tree. But he remembered it clearly and took it with some seriousness. One day on the family farm in Montague County, Texas, when he was somewhere around seven years old, he was in the field plowing with his father. A strange man came to the edge of the field out of some woods. His father stopped the team, handed him the reins and told him to not move. His father then went to the edge of the field, talked to the stranger for a while, then came back. According to Granddad, his father then said, “You know who that man was? That man was John Wilkes Booth.” Grandad’s sense of humor was sometimes quite subtle and easily missed. Either he had a grand joke on us, or his father had a grand joke on him. Or perhaps, who knows?

I remember the way he would punctuate a discussion with “why,” not as a question, but as a declarative (such as “well”), as in, “If he hadn’t done that, why, then …” I remember his devotion to watching the evening news with Walter Cronkite. The fact that the Depression of the ‘30s scarred him so deeply he lived out the rest of his life in fear of another one. How he loved taking care of his yard and mowing and watering. How careful and respectful he was of other people and their things. And the way that when he laughed he sort of bobbed up a down a bit, laughing whole-heartedly.

Shortly before his illness and death, he took a ride with me to pick up a package from the Roswell FedEx office. We had to stop in a farm implement store to ask directions; he knew the people inside. They brightened up when they saw him walk in the door. He seemed proud to introduce me and charmed the socks off the place, made the receptionist giggle and the counterman laugh out loud with some joke or comment which I have long forgotten. At that point, sometime in the early ‘90s, he hadn’t farmed in quite a long time, but they still remembered him. In his own quiet way, he made an impression.

Granddad lived a quiet, unassuming, unoffensive life. He was a bit timid about certain things, but never shy about things which truly mattered. He wasn’t perfect by any means. He could be stubborn, ornery, exasperating, sharp and no-nonsense, but the worst I ever heard said about him was that he spent too much time in car dealerships. And his wife was the one who made the comment and she loved him anyway. That’s a pretty good reputation.

This was a man whose life was proscribed inside a limited bit of territory, from roughly a line running between Houston and Oklahoma City, over to Albuquerque, down to Carlsbad and back over to Houston – in the jet age, a fairly small patch of the earth. Grandad lived much of his life in New Mexico, but didn’t visit the state capital in Santa Fe until the final years of that life. On that same trip, he saw the Grand Canyon and Phoenix for the first and last time. He knew every inch of every mile between Roswell and Duncan, knew when to plow and plant, how to read the weather and when to turn the well off, but never (to my knowledge) flew on a commercial airliner or toured the White House and never (also to my knowledge) saw either the Atlantic or Pacific oceans, although he did, I think, glimpse the Gulf of Mexico. He probably never went to a movie theater and certainly never crossed the Golden Gate Bridge.

But the richness of a man’s life is not defined by the title of his job, the money in his bank account, or the places he’s been or whether he’s bought cheap souvenirs at some tacky vendor’s cart in Paris. Rather, richness is defined by the job he did raising his kids and how much he loved his wife; it’s defined in the selflessness and devotion inherent in his daily life; it’s apparent in his reputation, his integrity and the love he gave and received. And in these ways, life’s intangibles, Buck Booth was wealthy beyond all measure.

Granddad was 85 years old when he died of cancer in 1993. He held his wife’s hand to the end and was surrounded by the love of his family as the final act of his long life played out. I arrived in Roswell several hours before he died and will never forget his grin and the spark of life in his eyes when Grandma asked, “Do you know who this is?” and he said, “Why, it’s Steve.” And not altogether without a flash of the old impatience, as if he was saying, “Well, of course, woman, I can see who it is. It’s perfectly obvious!” That scene is probably my most cherished memory; that when he recognized me, he smiled.

I watched him draw his final breath and felt acutely the sudden loss as that breath left his lungs, his spirit flying away with it, his body giving a final sigh as he finally attained the joy and peace he needed. We were all diminished by his passing, yet drew on the reserves of strength and love he gave us as his legacy to get through the ensuing period of grief. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss him and wish he were around so that I could just simply listen to him. I’m sometimes angry that we can’t have our grandparents around when we’re older and can understand and appreciate them, but instead are ignorant, impatient youths right at the time when they have the most to give of themselves.

But at the same time, I know that much of what Granddad believed, the kind of person he was, and the legacy he gave lives on in his family. In a greater sense, he left the best parts of himself behind for us to benefit, and then laid down for the final long rest he so richly deserved. Pieces of him live on in each of us and we are humbled by the legacy. He was a grand old man.