By the time I began making my own, fully aware childhood memories at my grandmother’s house in the tiny rural town of Gregory, Arkansas, my grandmother was a widow. My grandfather, John Benjamin, passed away when I was a baby, so I have no clear memory of him three-dimensionally, although I have a picture of me, baby-cute and cherub-like, sitting on his lap. I only know how handsome he looks in pictures, despite the fact that he had a glass eye from a baseball accident when he was a youngster. I always gazed at his picture and thought how remarkably nice he seems to have been, and how my dad, uncles, and aunt inherited his handsome looks, combined with my grandmother’s. He had kind wrinkles around those eyes, and a sense of almost-mischief portrayed in the upturn of his smile. My hunches have been confirmed by my dad and his siblings, that he was a gentle and kind man who rarely lost his temper.
The room where he kept a bed and a study smelled like pipe tobacco and old wood, and I was somehow allowed, at a point that I don’t remember, to keep a Roi-Tan cigar box of his, in which to keep my treasures, for many years. The cigar smell lingered in the polished cardboard box, and gave me great comfort by alluding to his presence, when sifting through my childhood trinkets and small booklets that I kept in it. The burgundy and gold colors and worn edges of the lid became mellowed over time as it was eventually stashed under my bed and retrieved repeatedly.
I got to sleep in his room sometimes, and the tree outside the window used to sway and scratch spookily against the glass and scare me, but I stayed brave because I so longed to be close to the grandfather I didn’t know, in any way I could, and sleeping in his room made me feel like I could experience a part of him. Besides, that room had a scholarly yet warm feel to it, and the afterglow of a thoughtful man with a soul. I long to remember more clearly the interior and the contents of the cabinets and shelves on the walls. It defies explanation, but my young heart interpreted and felt the calming energy of his presence there. I used to imagine his marriage to my grandmother and what the dynamics between them might have looked and felt like. Did they have fun conversations and banter? Did they enjoy each other’s company? Did they laugh a lot? I would never know the synergy of their union played out in real life.
I loved his name. Mimicking the concentric circles of life, his son, my Uncle Benny, is John Benjamin Kittrell II, and his son, my cousin, whose life was cut short at the tender age of 16, was John Benjamin Kittrell III, affectionately called John B. Now my own son, in their honor, is Jacob Benjamin Locke, an echo of relations and history and connections.
The smell of pipe tobacco and the brush of trees against a window in the middle of the night take me to that place of assurance that only the warmth of family memories can prompt.
Sweet dreams, Grandfather.