…written by my daughter, Lesley Wolfgang Jackson, on her birthday 14 years ago – memorializing her maternal grandfather, who had passed away two months earlier. She composed it while graduate student at the University of Kentucky. Her birthday was yesterday, and I intended to post this earlier, but celebrations and other activities intervened. I found a copy yesterday while discarding boxes of old memories, preparing our house to lease.
The grandfather she remembers was William C. Ashworth, Sr., (1919-2000) who served his country in World War 2 and the Korean War (piloting B-17 Flying Fortresses and P-47 Thunderbolts); his community, serving as Postmaster at Franklin, TN, from Eisenhower to Ford; and his Lord, preaching the gospel for nearly half a century (1950-2000). It is an eloquent tribute which captures the essence of both subject and author.
Today I am running the arboretum trail. I am running, and I am thinking of my grandfather. I am remembering running ahead of him as he walked. I am remembering him over my shoulder, a tiny action figure, twisting stiffly from the waist, baseball cap sitting high top his head, allowing his toupee to ride untouched. I always circle back to him. He has slathered himself with SPF 40 sunscreen, solemn and methodical as morning mass, always forgetting a dab sliding along the ridge of his ear.
I am driving him to the mall: Safe walking, out of the rain. I concentrate to match my pace to his. We talk about my running, my pace, about my latest race time. We talk of baseball, of my cousin’s pitching arm, insured at age nine. I see my favorite running shoe, discontinued, on sale in a store window. He wants to buy them for me. Do they fit? Are they comfortable? What kind of shoe should he wear? He buys what is comfortable, a new pair every few months. My grandmother doesn’t understand.
I am visiting him in the hospital. We watch a baseball game on the high television while my parents take my grandmother for something to eat. I will not run my long run on this Saturday; I will not run at all. My grandfather wants a glass of water: Don’t get up, Sugar. He is shuffling across the floor to the sink, tied to the IV, gaunt in his striped pajamas, bald and unshaven.
I won’t run with him again, won’t circle back for him when he becomes a small dot on the horizon.
Tomorrow is my birthday. I will miss his annual account, over chocolate cake, of racing his Corvair to the hospital a state away, his wrong turn on Peachtree Street, to greet me, his first grandchild. I will remember him telling me I would never know how much he loved me, his dry kiss on my cheek after I blow out the candles. I probably won’t, but I imagine. Tomorrow I will run. I will run for him and I will remember. I will breathe the dark and the morning air, I will breathe it for us, and I will try not to be sad.