Grandfather’s life and death hold lessons

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 22, 2000

Until last month, I hadn’t cried myself to sleep in ages. Stored for years, for several nights the tears welled up quick enough to make a 2-year-old jealous.

The reason?

Well, this time it wasn’t that I’d lost my pacifier (that particular fit has become legendary in my family since I performed it in the early 1970s at Disney World).

Email newsletter signup

This one involved a lost love.

No, not a fleeting, young relationship that didn’t work out. This one was a lifetime investment.

This one involved an 81-year-old man whose blood I shared.

After more than two decades of fighting asbestosis and old age, my grandfather, Richard Clyde Pace, lost the battle.

Some things in life you take for granted. And when they are taken away, it leaves an odd, empty, hard-to-understand feeling. Only time helps fill the void.

At the funeral my older brother said, &uot;I thought he’d live forever.&uot;

So did I.

He was known by a variety of names, R.C., Clyde, Daddy, Pace, but to me, he was always Poppy. It was a moniker bestowed upon him by my older sister who couldn’t pronounce Paw Paw when she was young.

Poppy meant a lot to me.

When I was called a &uot;runt&uot; by my older and larger brother, Poppy pulled me onto his knee and reminded me that &uot;dynamite comes in little packages.&uot;

He went on to explain that you don’t have to be big in size to be a great person.

Somehow his words made me feel a little better, made me stand a bit more straight.

And he wasn’t simply saying that because I was his grandson; he was that way with everyone.

He couldn’t stand injustice in the world.

I suspect that desire for justice came from a hard upbringing.

While many of us have only read about The Great Depression, he was a child of it.

Eventually &uot;the runt&uot; grew taller and dwarfed Poppy in stature.

This wasn’t difficult. He was never tall in height, but in my mind, he stood taller than anyone I’ve ever known.

Perhaps no one knew him better than his wife.

He and my grandmother shared a lifetime together – 54 years and a daughter, my mother.

His loss has been particularly difficult on her.

The family has rallied around her, constantly checking on her to see if she needs anything, or needs to talk.

When I called her the other day to announce my impending arrival at her front door, her words hit me squarely.

&uot;We’ll be here,&uot; she said, pausing as she realized the words didn’t fit anymore. &uot;I mean I’ll be here.&uot;

At first, her words brought me back to the days immediately around his death – images and memories I’d just as soon forget.

Then, I kept reminding myself, &uot;This happens all of the time. People get through it; people move on.&uot;

The key, as in every part of life, is in learning something from the experience. And in life and death Poppy taught me volumes.

His loss is painful in the short term, but what’s important is remembering what he taught me through his example. I hope even a tenth of it rubbed off.

Spiritually, I know he’s in a better place. He’s probably sitting on a cloud with a small child on his knee telling him that &uot;dynamite comes in little packages.&uot;

Kevin Cooper is managing editor of The Democrat. He can be reached at (601) 445-3541 or by e-mail at