HATS IN MY MEMORY part 2 —  Routine, Nature, and God

 

I pull the blue-striped engineer’s cap down from high in the closet.  A dusting of starch covers my hands as I cradle muted shades of blue and cream stripes. The hat is still surprisingly stiff from its last upkeep years ago. I find a wadded Kansas City Star newspaper, dated April 5, 1992, stuffed inside securing the cap’s shape.  I rub my fingers along the edges of the tattered bill and accidentally brush starch powder onto my jeans.  The denim blue isn’t nearly so bold, nor the white not nearly so white as they used to be, but hidden inside a fold in the cap I find a hint of the old, bright colors, defying years of wash and wear.

GrandpaTurnage died in 1982 at the age of 80.  I inherited his caps when my mother began helping Grandma sort through her house and its hidden treasures.  Grandpa’s work cap might seem like a strange heirloom to many, but to me, it brings Grandpa’s voice and tenderness back to life. Noting that the stuffed newspaper was ten years past Grandpa’s death, I couldn’t help but wonder how often Grandma had relieved his tenderness through his caps also. I recall the stark difference between snow-white hair and skin covered by the cap versus the dark sun-leathered face of a hard worker. A cap of protection. A cap of hard work. A cap of recollections.

In my memory, I sit at a round wooden table with Grandma and Grandpa.  After a busy morning of playing outside, my childhood-self smells fried chicken, fresh creamed corn scraped from the cob, and tiny new sweet potatoes. Grandma prepares these along with crisp radishes and cold dripping cantaloupe from Grandpa’s garden. The sweet potatoes, barely as long as my fingers, are Grandpa’s favorite.  I follow his lead, dipping these plump roasted vegetables into butter:  sweet mushy vegetable candy on the inside, a crisp skin on the outside.  Just that morning I awoke to the smell of fresh coffee and oven toast.  Come evening we’ll have popcorn in the blue metal bowls while Grandpa challenges us to games of Carrom and checkers.

I recall Grandpa as all about routine, nature, and God.  Outside in the mornings, he kept the huge yard freshly mowed.  Grapes grew from the backyard vines.  We walk to the pond to fish or to the barn to groom his white horse. I play in the dirt as he harvests fresh vegetables from the garden.  Then I find him sharpening a tool at his workbench in the garage.  No matter what Grandpa did, my brother and I were always welcome alongside. Often times our youngers sisters joined us, too.

Noon dinner was always followed by a short rest.  Grandpa’s “short rests” have little to do with naps, though.  Instead, Grandpa moves to his overstuffed burgundy chair, reaches across the end table for his dog-eared black Bible, and with all the tenderness of a man opening an ancient treasure chest, he lays the book on his lap and reads.  I sit on the matching couch, eager to hear Grandpa’s thoughts.  Oh, how Grandpa loved reading and committing every word to heart.  “God can do anything.  Just pray.  Let Him become the most important part of your life.”  His words ring in my ears as he thumbs the pages.  After a few minutes, Grandpa’s eyes close:  meditation, prayer, thoughts … perhaps a short nap, after all.

Afternoons and evenings were much the same: tinkering outside, caring for the yard, reliving stories of his younger years pushing brush with a bulldozer, or helping Grandma with the evening dishes. Laughter, games, kidding and entertaining us with short ditties on the piano. Grandpa played “Chopsticks,” to our enjoyment. (We all knew Grandma was the real piano player.)

What do I recall? Grandpa Turnage never failed to share of his faith in God. With every breath, he seemed to be teaching or meditating on the Word. “Let the Words of my heart and the meditations of my mind …”

As I think back, I know Grandpa Turnage was far from perfect. He’d be quick to point out his own faults, but I recall his integrity. I recall his desire to know God — and be sure everyone around him knew of His God. Looking at the blue and white striped engineer’s cap, I wonder. Will others remember me as a person of routine, nature, and God years from now? I hope so.