An Ode to a Legacy: William James Noland June 14, 1919 – March 3, 1993

My Grandfather & Me (1984)

My first thought during the month of June is that this month is his birthday.  This man here was something special.

He wasn’t a man of many words.  He was a self-educated man.  He was the hardest working man I’ve ever known.  He gave me the bar and raised the bar so high for me when it comes to love.  We would walk together when I was a little girl and I’d end up with candy every time we were out.  He took me fishing with him.  He read me bed time stories.  He made sure I knew everything I needed to know for school.  He chauffeured me to school every morning.  He was my alarm clock.  He was my protector.  The things he said and did made sense.  We, along with my Gram would drive to Alabama every summer, stay for a couple of weeks. We took those summer driving vacations like you see in Madmen.  Driving across the country.  We drove to California twice.  We went to Atlantic City and Canada and all sorts of other places that Buick and that Regal could take us to.  I remember the green Regal and it’s white leather seats.

I would sneak him ice cream when he wasn’t supposed to have it.  We would eat dinner together.  When he was still working, in the tire plant in Detroit, I would wait for him on the porch every day.  Looking for him to come home.  We split watermelons together.  He would let me scrape the juice from the watermelon rind.  We sat up late at night together too.  When I would wake up in the middle of the night, I wandered out to the kitchen where he would be posted up in the window.  He’d share his re-heated black coffee, crackers and vienna sausages.  You couldn’t tell me I hadn’t hit pay dirt.  I was in kid heaven.

He had this love for me that I just cannot describe.  I’ve chased it ever since.  All those moments of a father and a daughter of a daughter.  He was just one of the kindest men I’ve known.  Never a harsh word. Always there to help.

He also didn’t play when it came down to his family.  I saw him defend my mother, bail out my uncles and make sure that his wife wasn’t ever talked to any other way than with respect.  He loved all of us.  He was one of those rare and special beings – of which only one will ever exist.  If you’re around long enough, blessed, you may meet another.

But I am ever so thankful for his legacy.  For how he loved me and gave to me.  For all of those talks.  For his example as a man.  Even my father, his former son-in-law told me my Grandfather was the strongest, the hardest working and most honorable man he had known.  He was so kind.  So giving.  His feelings were easily hurt and I watched him shed a few tears over the years – in worry and concern at the choices others made for themselves.  One of the most remarkable things about his was he was self-taught.  A man who had to drop out of school in the third grade, after his father died. Working the share cropping fields to help support the family.

He couldn’t read very well when he joined the military but he could cook.  Funny enough he couldn’t drive either – my Gram taught him to drive.  But he taught me how to read, write and gave me my first driving lessons at eight years old.  He was a fan of the blues, BB King mostly and quiet nights on the porch in Detroit listening to baseball games.   He had a best friend named Tip (Lord knows I don’t know Tip’s real name).  They worked in the tire plant together and talked from time to time.  I remember that old red phone book and all of his glasses he would use.  I remember having to flip through there and read the numbers and reading the newspaper to him as his eyesight started to fail.

I am much like him.  I am truly he and my Gram’s child.  I can see that I am a product of them both.

I wanted to take these few words and say how thankful I am I had this man as an example.  That he was my friend.  That even today, 19 years after his death, I can still hear his voice.  Hear his words.  I can smell the pipe tobacco and the shirts.  I remember the mismatched outfits and old school flips flops.  The green chair on the porch that he broke.  That time he chopped down the tree in the back yard after a tornado had blown it against the house.   I remember the time he almost electrocuted himself cutting a watermelon for me.  The times he spent with me in the hospital – from broken arms to stitches.  From me sneaking in to his hospital room because he needed to see me when he was sick and I was too young to be in there.  He needed me as much as I needed him. We were pretty much inseparable.

Today, I still have a shirt he owned.  A handkerchief.  They rest in a chest next to my bed.  The picture of my Grandparents at the little matchbox house I grew up in, with the little dog we owned.  We were truly a family.  Because of him (and my Gram) I had the best, most protected childhood a little girl in this world, in Southwest Detroit could ask for.  I miss him daily. I am eternally thankful to God for the man and how he  gave him to me for the years I had him.

When I’m lost, all I have to do is wonder what he would think, how he would handle things and it brings me home again.

Love,

Rae

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