My grandfather died.
He was 85, a man of the mountains; a man of the sea; a man of family.
I only knew him as an older man, partially crippled by several strokes. Strokes that he worked to overcome, despite odds to his detriment. He walked with a limp and a cane. He once upon a time drove a fiery orange ’76 Corvette with T-tops and a snarling engine, out-racing state troopers from the alpine roads of West Virginia and Ohio through Kentucky to the beach flats of Virginia and beyond.
I only knew he was a sailor. Later in life he would cruise the Ohio river, and yet he never forgot his maritime roots. A plank from a submarine, that once sailed beneath the briny blue, hung above his computer. Nautical themed kitsch littered his house. He served America’s NAVY proudly for many years aboard such mighty ships as the Nautilus, the Finback, and the Daniel Webster. “‘Cat and mouse'” he always said with a wink. “We played ‘cat and mouse’ with the Russians.” There were stories he could not tell, even when I knew him, stories of running silent and deep, of far flung harbors and a cold war now dead. Stories that now sleep with him and Davy Jones.
I only knew him behind large rimmed glasses, with a smile, and a NAVY veteran’s hat. He came from the coal hills of West Virginia, deep in the Appalachians. He was a die-hard fan of the Thundering Herd of Marshall University. A little part of him died in ’70 when a plane crashed and killed the team. I remember him cheering for Chad Pennington, who never made it in the NFL, and Randy Moss, who did, once upon a chilled homecoming. I remember him seated near the gridiron end-zone, watching the boys play football, decked in green and white.
I only knew him as a quiet, thoughtful man. He would sip his coffee with the morning paper and an open bird guide, watching his winged visitors and looking up the ones he hadn’t yet seen. After cutting grass, washing that magnificent ‘vette, and grilling burgers, we sat and watched the sun set behind West Virginia’s hills till dusk was deep and the deer came to forage. He taught me how to complete a circuit and light a bulb, an old salt with some solder and wire. He gave my family our first, and second, computers. A Commodore ’64 that launched my brother’s career, and an old 386 that launched my digital games. It was from his generosity that I first touched the tendrils of the world.
I only knew my grandfather as a grandfather. You may have known a different man than I, and I cannot speak to Charles Edward Martin. But as for me and GrandPaw Martin, I loved him and I will miss his presence upon this earth. I will never look out upon the ocean without thinking of him, that old man and the Nautilus that knew him when.