Over labor day weekend, I was able to visit my Grandfather, Robert Lloyd Hyde. He has been battling a serious liver disease for the better part of a decade now. This is the twilight of his exceptional life. He is a man of moral character, determination, work ethic, and true grit. He is one of the best men I have ever known.
This past year his health has declined quickly. When I saw him, about a week ago, I could sense that the end was near, and he knew it was too. I reflected on the many stories he had told me, the lessons he had taught me, and wondered what he would teach me on a sunny Friday afternoon.
We talked on a surface level for a time, acting as if nothing had changed. We pretended that we would have many more times to visit. I didn’t know what to ask, what to say. How do you come out and ask a dying man anything. Isn’t it their time to talk and you listen? I knew, eventually, that he would tell us some stories. I considered that more than likely this would be the last tales I would ever hear from him.
Throughout the afternoon he spoke of grandma. He said that the first time he saw her he fell instantly in love. They married when she was 16 and he was 19. He talked about their early years of marriage. It was an arduous life; they lived in a one room cabin, using the small creek in front of their home as running water. When grandma’s parents came, her mother cried. Grandpa said,”he was too young and foolish to realize how to treat a lady.” After 60 years of marriage, I have no doubt that they love each other. I got the feeling that these stories he was telling us wasn’t just a reflection exercise, or an apology for not understanding how to cater to a woman, but this was his way of saying, “Do better than me from the start. Your wife, she is all you got.” While he loved my grandma dearly, he felt that it was his duty to help others, especially the weak.
As a young school boy, he became acquainted with Salvador Hernandez. He was “big and strong,” but the other kids made fun of him because “his tongue was too big. He couldn’t speak properly and drooled all the time.” He decided that he should befriend him. Grandpa was athletic and popular, he often chose teams, and when he did, he chose “Salvy” first. He would “wipe the spit off his face for him.” Salvy probably had down syndrome. He would have been easy to ignore and shun. Grandpa enabled him and included him. “Once you pointed him in the right direction (speaking of sports) you couldn’t bring him down…. Salvy was my best friend growing up.”
His family moved when he was older. He met a girl who had a glass eye. He often had to tell her that it “was pointing north,” and helped her correct it. He looked passed her imperfections and loved her.
His final story was a heavier one. As a married man, one of his first jobs was milking cows. There were several other dairy hands that lived nearby. One of the other worker’s son had a deformed leg. It was “bent” in a way so that his walk was laborious and painful. He gravitated to grandpa. Eventually, my grandfather found out that he was being beaten by his father. One day, he came across the father chasing his hobbling son. He confronted that man and warned him that if he ever laid a hand on the boy again, he would end him. The man had good reason to believe him. Grandpa wasn’t a man of hollow threats. He once knocked a man out for beating his wife and then chased him out of town.
It was different back in those days. You didn’t tolerate such ignorant and evil behavior.
These were the last stories he told us. Love and cherish your significant other and protect the weak. Love your neighbor.
I love my grandad. He has more stories than most of us have hair. He worked hard. He was honest. He stayed true to his wife and religion. He never quit, he fought, always. I could never write a tribute that would do just for the legacy he created.