A story goes that he and his daughter-in-law, my Aunt Deni, went to the State Capitol for an afternoon of dancing. A Western Swing band was playing in the Rotunda, and they dressed for the occasion. She led him by following in reverse and counting out a smooth, circular waltz. This was some kind of very exact thrill for him, having been told be previous dance partners that waltzing would never work for country music. But they continued swirling and counting, keeping beat and broadening their smiles. “I knew it could be done!” he exclaimed. He was overjoyed by this simple breakthrough, this very real pleasure.
Once on an average visit to see my sweet Grandpa, at his last house before moving to assisted living. the first thing he said when I walked in the front door was, “Honey you have grown!” He exclaimed it, really. With a lot of emphasis. And friends, I was forty years old when this happened. I had not grown in 28 years, at least not vertically. Grandpa was always keeping track of how tall we were.
On this day we hugged tight then walked directly to the sun room in the back of his house, Here he kept a menagerie of tropical plants, art projects, hand-lettered signs of every variety, books, cards from loved ones, and very comfortable chairs for sitting. In the corner of the room was a heavy electric organ with a painted portrait of my Grandma perched on the music ledge. Nothing in there matched exactly, but everything together looked so perfect. The room made you want to sit and stay for hours, which he would tell you was exactly his plan every day.
We sat and watched through the expansive glass windows as dozens of different birds visited the seven or eight feeders he kept full of seed. Cannas grew in every tight little corner. Hot pink crepe myrtles. A new peach tree. Tomato plants, green beans, even corn… All wedged neatly in his postage stamp back yard, backed by a pristine white vinyl fence. In the middle of it all was a small garden shed painted the color of cannas leaves in fall. I remembered him planning this building addition several years before, explaining that he wanted to paint it this exact color so it would blend in with his favorite plants. And it did, perfectly. It wasn’t quite brown, not quite purple. But a wonderful muted bruise color, deep and alive looking.
He always loved little girls and women wearing hats. He loved music and dancing and greatly preferred collegiate sports over professional. He gave himself Spanish lessons late in life to make the most of a road trip to Mexico with his best friend Roger. While there he hiked the Aztec ruins with Roger’s pregnant daughter. I would love to have heard his joy at seeing all that evidence of ancient history, right before his eyes.
He served in the Navy at the end of World War II. He married his high school sweetheart, my beautiful Grandma, after wooing her with a Portuguese sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, which he claimed to have penned himself. She knew the poem already, and its true author, but preserved the moment by letting him keep the secret.
Grandpa Stubbs was an avid and self-taught home gardener, all my life growing the most delicious tomatoes, fragrant herbs (lemon balm and basil will always remind me of him) larkspur, and more. I can scarcely walk outside at the farm or think of one gardening task without hearing his voice. He taught me how to use grass clippings as compost, how to double dig a new vegetable bed to eliminate weeds and grassroots, and how to plant and prune tomatoes in a cool, weird way. If I ever asked him a gardening question (or any question, for that matter) to which he didn’t have an answer, his response was a swift and silly, “Well honey I just don’t want to tell you right now.”
He and my grandmother raised their family of five, two girls and a son, in small town Oklahoma and then spent the oil-bust years in Oklahoma City. He was an avid salesman, providing to the buying market everything from bristle brushes to caskets, wholesale.
When we were little and spending gobs of time at his and Grandma’s house, most evenings ended with an ice cream sundae, unless for some reason the day called for a tall glass of cold milk with saltine crackers crushed up in the bottom. If we could not quite finish our treat, he would cajole us onward, to take just a few more bites, “C’mon, be a sport. Be a sport.” And he would wiggle his substantial eyebrows at us.
From when I was a little girl until very recently, any time I would walk into the room he would call me his pretty little granddaughter. To him (and to my Dad) I am “Ma-ree-zie.” And I always loved the way that made me feel.
Grandpa made friends easily and had no boundaries that I could ever detect. He had a deep, clear voice, warm and welcoming, energetic, not intimidating at all. He laughed hard from a place deep inside himself, somewhere strong and limitless. His smile was genuine and warm.
I always thought he was handsome whether clean-shaven or wearing a trim mustache or covered by a full beard and shoulder-length hair. In fact he is one of the few men who to me still looked gentlemanly groomed this way.
In my mind he is always wearing either a pair of pressed slacks and a high-sheen golf shirt or Bermuda shorts and a white tee, sweaty from working outside.
The sound of football on t.v. will always make me think of him, as will the smell of strong (pleasantly stale) coffee and tobacco. I cannot walk into a garden center and see onion sets or bagged flower bulbs, smell all the fertilizers and peat mixes, without thinking of him. Driving past the old Horn Seed on Northwest Expressway has for years made me cry, just from nostalgia.
Did you know that my Grandpa once played in a professional golf tournament?
Later in life but when he was still driving, Grandpa took great pleasure in scaring his passengers half to death. On more than one occasion, after making a risky left turn against traffic, he would grin and pat me on the shoulder, assuring me he wasn’t worried because had we collided with anyone, “It was on your side honey.”
You know about Grandpa’s peanut butter cookies, right?
This recipe is one of my most favorite treats to make for people. Lots of love is stirred into it, because it was by sharing this with me over the phone that Grandpa made sure I had enough groceries when I was a young mom. (Side note worth mentioning: He was never convinced that I had installed my baby’s car seat correctly. I came by my worrying genes naturally.)
What children need most are the essentials that grandparents provide in abundance.
They give unconditional love, kindness, patience, humor, comfort, lessons in life.
And, most importantly, cookies.
He was a ravenous student of history, ancient history was his favorite I think. Or maybe it was WWII. He was unashamedly fascinated by mysteries like Stonehenge and Easter Island, loved the Northern Lights, and was the first person to spark in my mind the amazing truth that what we call “history” was actually not that long ago. He illustrated for me how recently, in fact, Abraham Lincoln walked the earth.
Grandpa seemed to understand how quickly time passes and how temporary everything is. Surely that is why he developed such an appetite for squeezing life out of his days.
At age 51, together with Grandma and my Dad, he started Village Art Lamp Company. They literally started assembling lamps and lamp shades on the floor of their living room floor, built up a unique inventory, and proceeded to sell to retail chains and hotels all over the state, eventually nationwide. He was stern about selling by consignment at first, and he was attentive to his lamps’ shelf placement. A natural salesman, Grandpa knew how to be seen and heard and how to get the same attention to his merchandise. That one chapter of his life illustrated my entire childhood and provided an excellent living for dozens of big families over the years.
After a hard-earned retirement Grandpa delighted in announcing, each time as if the first, that he had the day off. When I was first a stay-at-home Mom, he would frequently drop in for coffee or call and invite me out, enjoying the joke together. I wish I still had a “day off” to enjoy with him.
He lived a life of variety, passion, joy, hard work, constant seeking, romance (definitely a ladies’ man), pleasure, overcoming of hardship, and genuine interest in things past, present, and future. He eschewed organized religion but made frequent, friendly mention of “The Man Upstairs.”
As our family has sat in vigil this past week, exchanging memories and simmering in love and grief, I marveled at how each of us clearly felt a unique bond to this man. Everyone told a story that no one had heard before, and I suspect I am not the only one who over the years felt a little extra special to him. That is just how he managed to love everyone, no matter how big the family grew. He imparted great doses of himself to each of us in vivid ways. More family members are gathering in Oklahoma City tonight, and I am excited to hear even more.
He has been the very best example of Carpe Diem to my life. And for that I will always be deeply grateful.
Friends and loved ones, I would appreciate it greatly if you knew Grandpa Stubbs, to leave us a memory here. Thank you so much, and thanks also for your condolences this week. He passed peacefully on March first, at the satisfied end of a life nearly ninety years long.
“Well how do you like those apples?”