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Prominent in my home is a handsome dining table made of heart of pine. Large enough to comfortably seat ten adults, it is affectionately referred to as the "Table of Hearts." My grandfather made it for my mother more than thirty-five years ago, and she gave it to me. Built of salvaged wood, its top surface hand planed to a smooth finish and its legs hand turned from one of his patterns, the table is a daily reminder to me of my grandfather, Obie Lee "O. L." Brown, master craftsman, father of seven, and grandfather to twenty-two.
My grandfather was a major figure in my early years, and although he died before I became a teenager, I carry his beloved memory with me still. Along with my parents, he is credited with shaping the man I have become and, along with my father, is the model for the grandfather I hope to be one day.
O. L. Brown was a self-taught maker of fine furniture. As a young boy I sat at his feet many an evening to watch Gunsmoke or The Red Skelton Show, at his side as he drove the pickup truck to the hardware store, or across the table from him on Saturday mornings while we enjoyed a cup of coffee, mine mostly milk, and a bowl of cold cereal. When finished with breakfast we walked across the backyard to his woodshop, where we stayed busy for hours until Grandmomma brought out ham sandwiches and sweet iced tea for lunch. I was too young to help much except for moving boards from one stack to another or sweeping sawdust. He died when I was twelve. My eyes still water when I think about him, especially on Sunday mornings as I drink coffee from what was his favorite mug, now one of my most prized possessions.
O. L. was a tall, barrel-chested man who wore his hair cut close to his head and nearly always dressed in overalls, complete with a finely sharpened pencil in his pocket "just in case." He made funny faces, played practical jokes, and carried candy in his pockets at all times. I remember many stories about his childhood and our family history, stories he told me while sitting on the front porch, or on afternoon rides into the country to see old houses where relatives once lived or churches once attended. I remember his desire to work and make things with his hands, both of which he did until he was in his early seventies, and his pride when giving a just finished piece of furniture to one of his children or grandchildren. I remember how he would drive for hours to attend the homecoming picnics held at the old family cemetery, where we cleaned, weeded, and repaired family plots under the hot Georgia sun before sitting in the shade of ancient oak trees to enjoy a fine lunch prepared by the women of the family. It is there where he was laid to rest, alongside my grandmother. Today, all these years later, when I find myself driving into south Georgia, I take the short detour off the highway to sit under the old tree in the cemetery and think of these people who were so dear to me.
It was my grandfather who first impressed upon me the importance of family, of tradition, and of loving one's work. These are values that remain with me today that I try now to impress upon my child. I have placed several photographs of my grandfather around my home and have enjoyed telling my daughter about him when the occasion arises. Like me when I was a young boy, my daughter has only one grandfather to enjoy. I make sure that they have ample time to spend together, so that she is left with as many memories of growing up with him as I have of growing up with O. L.
My child, Meagan Katherine, loves her grandfather with the same intensity that I loved mine. Known to her as "Gramps," he lets her know that she is special to him, and they have a rhythm when interacting together that is all their own. They play, tease, and torment one another with pet names or taunts about embarrassing events of the past. They try to scare each other coming around corners, purposefully get in each other's way, and embrace and kiss at the beginning and end of each visit. She looks at his old photographs and listens with great interest as he tells her about the people within them. He makes things for her, and she enjoys being with him in his shop. He explains to her what he is doing as he restores an old car, and they sit in rocking chairs on the front porch and talk late into the night, or they watch television together until one of them falls asleep. Meagan keeps a picture of him and her grandmother on our refrigerator, and she laughs when she tells her friends about the last joke that Gramps played on her.
In my father I see the best qualities of a grown man that make for a wonderful grandfather. He loves his grandchildren unconditionally; he remembers how to have fun; he comes to their aid without hesitation; and he extends a calm patience and understanding that sometimes elude overwhelmed parents.
It was Meagan who first encouraged me to write this book and its companion, Why I Love Grandma, as a way to memorialize our love for my parents and Mrs. Ann Hord, her grandparents. Together we made a list of what each of us enjoyed about our grandfathers, and we thought of what we admired most about the many grandfather-grandchild relationships we have witnessed. As she helped me in taking the photographs for this project she was touched by the personal stories that were shared with us, and those stories combined with our own to help us write this book.
With this book Meagan Katherine and I celebrate the grandfathers we love and recognize them for the many caring gestures that have been extended to us. We also celebrate the wonderful grandfathers we met while creating this book, those who stand in when fathers are absent, who welcome new grandchildren into the family no matter what their origin, who give of themselves unselfishly and continuously, who travel great distances on short notice just because their company has been requested, who share traditions and willingly learn of new ways from young and delighted teachers, who remember their youth and relive it when given the chance to do so, and who speak with a wisdom and understanding that enrich the lives of those who listen. With this book we hope to give grandchildren a special way to reach out to their grandfathers and speak to them of what is in their hearts. At the back of the book there is space for the grandchild to include a family photo and write his or her own one-hundredth reason for loving Grandpa.
My child and I reviewed the first draft of this book while sitting at the Table of Hearts, the dining table that is to be passed on to her when she has a family of her own. She pointed to the many scratches and dents that she as a child made on the table, once banging her fork to get my attention, or working a bit too carelessly on a craft or school project. She asked me if I would ever refinish the table to remove these signs of use. "No," I said. "Granddaddy meant for this table to remind us of what we have done as a family." She then shared with me her favorite memories of family gatherings and other celebrations that have taken place around the Table of Hearts, and I smiled as I nodded in approval and whispered to the memory of O. L., "It does remind us, Granddaddy, it does."