Tonight is a different kind of post. You see, my Granddad passed away on October 31, 2016. He was 86. We laid him to rest today, and I can’t finish out the day without writing down at least some of my memories. I worry so much that they will fade with time, so I appreciate the Internet being a venue where I can write them down and look back on them to help me remember.
My Granddad was Daniel Christian Reinhardt. He was born on November 26, 1929. His parents always joked that the stock market crashed because he was such an expensive baby. He was the third child, and his nickname was “Steppin’ Child,” maybe because he was a middle kid, maybe because he was a big walker. My Great-Grandma never really explained it. My Granddad was about the sixth Daniel Christian Reinhardt in this country, and we have often said that our people came over sometime soon after The Mayflower. We Reinhardts originally lived more towards the East Coast but eventually (Suzie Viola Uzzel is the name I always remember associated with this move) worked our way westward to Oklahoma. This is where my Granddad got his great accent. He had a delightful way of dropping letters you wouldn’t expect, in the middle of words. Like, “the dep’ty he’ped him out”. And whenever I hear that nice, thick Oklahoma accent I just get all kinds of homesick.
My Granddad did all the things when he was growing up. He drove cars before he was even vaguely old enough to do so. One time, he and his brother gave the local preacher a ride. I’m pretty sure one of them did the pedals and steering and the other the gear box. Apparently, after that ride, the preacher wasn’t too keen to get back in the car with them again. He and his brothers and father usually shot meat if they got meat for dinner. His father had been a well-digger, but did lots of other things, too. Granddad worked in lumberyards and fisheries and picked cotton and I think oranges and anything he could to help his family out.
He met my Grandmother when he, his father, and his brother shot a goose. Turned out that goose belonged to someone and wasn’t wild. They made Dan go and apologise, and it turned out that goose belonged to my Grandma (‘s family). My Great-Grandma Sanders always said he had butter yellow hair and she thought it was so handsome. My Great-Uncle Bob used to sit next to my Grandma on the bus to and from school because, “she was Dan’s girl” and he wasn’t going to let anyone else sit next to her. I just heard this story this weekend: My Granddad was moving to northern California and he asked her if she was coming with him. She replied, “Not unless we’re married,” and he turned to her and said, “Could you make that happen?” The day they got married, they got married in the morning at the courthouse and picked cotton that afternoon.
My Granddad had a long career in the Air Force. He was in Explosive Ordinance Disposal. When I was a kid, I thought everyone’s Granddad had bomb casings on their back porch. I also couldn’t seem to remember EOD and would call it OED. Which is the Oxford English Dictionary. Oops. I always remember being proud of his service. He was always the most upstanding guy. And he wasn’t upstanding in the way where you resent it. You know? Sometimes people are so good it’s annoying. My Granddad never had a shred of superiority, or smugness at his own goodness. He just let it shine. I never, ever remember him saying a mean or callow thing, or thinking anything less than the best of people. Ever. He always conducted himself with honor and goodness. I think we need more people like him now more than ever. He spent plenty of time thinking. He didn’t speak very often, but you knew that when he did, you listened. And you knew that his thoughts would be even-handed, measured, and thought through.
When he was in the Air Force, my mom and her family lived just about everywhere (or that’s how it seemed to me). And every vacation, they went and visited family members, so they traveled all over the U.S. They lived in Arizona on Luke Air Force Base (where they had an alligator named Charlie for a little while, and when he’d get out people’d call the MPs and report a gila monster on the loose). They lived in Indianhead, Maryland, where Granddad worked at an Air Force training school and took many a young serviceman under his wing. They lived in Iceland for a year. They lived in Charleston, South Carolina. And he spent a year overseas, defusing bombs during the Vietnam War. When the files were finally declassified, we heard stories about how he and his partner would be dressed up in civvies and dropped on the Ho Chi Minh trail to defuse bombs, and that they were supposed to pretend they were tourists if anyone ever caught them. When he served, he sent a playing card to my Grandmother every week, so that when she had a full deck she’d know he was coming home. But he had a good sense of humor. One time, he came in the house and said, “I’ve got a present for you in my pocket, Betty.” Well, she reached in and found a little hog-nosed snake! When he was trouble, she’d always say, “Dan, you’re more trouble than a barrel of monkeys!”
After that, he was a mail carrier in Phoenix (which he always said was harder on account of the dogs), and then he retired and he and my Grandma spent years and years driving all across the country in their Motorhome. Grandma always drove. They had a huge network of friends that they would meet up with at RV rallies all across the country, and they were always good about keeping up their friendships, a skill I have yet to master.And every year they made it to a family reunion of some sort. When I was a kid, they’d take a grandkid or two every year with them. I was eight when we went to Oklahoma for a family reunion, and I have lots of good memories of that. Memories of really taking a shine to a second or third cousin, of an auction where I accidentally bought something because I didn’t realize I had bid on something, of real good food, of how they didn’t have chocolate ice cream at the Dairy Queen in Texas, of the excellent old, rusty metal slide in New Mexico. Whenever I think of my grandparents in the quiet of my mind, I see them sitting out in front of their RV, side by side in their little plaid-print camp chairs.
My Granddad eventually got sick. He had been exposed to Agent Orange while in Vietnam. And fly-over pesticides when he was a kid, and lead paint, and all kinds of things. But I prefer to think of him how he was when I was a kid. Funny. Quiet. Reassuring. Safe. A big man who always felt real solid. He had this great, deep laugh, and a wonderful gap between his front teeth. He was always ready with a story or a joke or an explanation of how something worked. He taught me to replace a doorknob and lock, he gave me my first tool kit, and he gave me a sense that I was important to him and that he loved me.
Granddad, I can never thank you enough for the example you set me or the love you showed me every day of my life. I will forever be striving to live up to that example.
I love you.