Setting the Standard

Submitted into Contest #237 in response to: Write a love story without using the word “love.”... view prompt

13 comments

Creative Nonfiction

I cast my line and looked at him. Leathery skin, grey hair tucked under a red ball cap, bushy brows that hide light blue eyes that withstood the test of time. His cheek protruded with tobacco that discolored his dentures. His bulbous nose was his prominent feature. He had rough hands that time and work had sanded into pumice stones. Hands he used to gently jiggle the artificial bait at the end of his line. He wore a red and black plaid flannel shirt under light blue overalls with a pair of boots that he must have repaired thirty times over.


Grandpa took a drink of black coffee from the metal lid of his old green thermos and breathed in the scenery.


The morning air was chilly with a low, light fog rolling over the lake. Beyond the mist could be seen the Maples, Oaks, Birch, and Hemlock in their fall wardrobes of gold, bronze, and purple rising into the Blue Ridge Mountains. Country air in the morning had a different smell to it than that of anywhere else. Your nose detected every flower that bloomed, every blade of grass that grew, and the soil they grew in. The rock upon the trailside had its own smell and it mingled amongst the other smells, the algae on the water, the frog on the shore, the fish that leapt from the water to secure its meal of a pesky fly.


Back on shore behind us was the old wood dock where the wooden, forest green canoe was usually tied up. That day, there was an old yellow lab with his head on his paws wishing he could have been out on the water with us. He soon found his way to the rug that sat next to my grandpa’s rocker on the front porch where the finely stacked pile of wood awaited the fireplace. The house was just a little one-bedroom log cabin with a loft. Grandpa had lived a hermit’s lifestyle for as long as I could remember. He ate what the land provided; eating what he caught, killed, and grew. He didn’t have a TV, but had a collection of books, including his Bible, and the daily paper was delivered to the end of the driveway, half a mile from the cabin. He had spent many of an evening in that old rocker with his faithful dog by his side listening to ball games on his radio for entertainment before turning in for the night.


Mom told me that there were several reasons her father chose his way of life. They all surround the death of my grandma, who I never met, having been born three months after her death in nineteen seventy-six. One: Grandma and grandpa had an old pact from back when they moved to Charlotte to find work and start a family. They agreed that one day they would return to their roots at the base of the mountains and retire peacefully. Two: My grandpa needed to retire early to care for his wife, which when combined with medical expenses, left him with a meager retirement fund. Three: The memories of the life they built together over thirty years was too much for grandpa to bear. There were ghosts of his wife everywhere. He needed a fresh start, not to forget her, but to move forward as she would have wanted him to.


The thing about my grandpa was that he was from a generation that is unlike the generations of today. Boys became men through courage and valor during the horrors of World War II. He took pride in those days, fighting alongside his fellow brothers for God and country. He frequently shared his tales of war with me. It was the last day of his fighting, the day he took shrapnel to the leg on the beach at Normandy and was knocked unconscious by the explosion, that he shared the most. That was the day he woke up in a recovery bay to the sight of my grandma. She was leaning over his bed as he was coming to. He said that he thought he had died and woke to the face of an angel, her steely blue eyes against her alabaster skin framed by sandy-blonde hair, dressed in white. It was only after his vision came into focus did he realize he was alive and in the presence of a beautiful nurse calling for the doctor, announcing his consciousness. Her voice captivated him, a tone of home, something the boy in him longed for. He from Asheville, North Carolina, and her from Franklin, shared stories of growing up there beneath the Blue Ridge Mountains. His chivalry and wit brought her to his bedside for more than childhood reminiscence. There was playful banter over games of cards and readings from some of grandma's favorite books. They grew close in a short amount of time. When it was time for my grandpa to return stateside, he tied a string around his finger, promising that when the war was over, he would find her. He wore that string for over a year.


After a year of courtship that entailed dinners, dancing, movies, parties, and family events, they were married at the Baptist church in Asheville were grandpa had attended since he was a young boy. Afterwards, they packed their bags for Charlotte, North Carolina, where employment was much more prosperous, especially for a man with a severe limp. He got a job as a truck driver hauling rock for a construction company whose name now alludes me. It was solid work for solid pay. He was able to buy a house in the suburbs just fifteen minutes from the city. The neighborhood was filled with children for my mom and uncle to play with, they were close to good schools, they were heavily involved with their church, and they vacationed every summer. Life was good.


However, in nineteen sixty-seven my grandma was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease, an inflammatory bowel disorder that ultimately lead to her death. As explained to me, it was mild at first and slowly progressed. There were frequent trips to the bathroom at unfortunate times. Then came the accidents that embarrassed my grandma to the point she wouldn’t leave the house. She grew weak. While my grandpa was on the road, his employer would radio him throughout the day, letting him know that his wife needed him. He would stop by the house while on his route and clean everything up and lay her back down, making sure she was comfortable, and her needs met before heading back out on the road. Grandpa would come home from work and take care of the cooking and the cleaning, he would tend to his wife’s needs, getting up several times a night to help her only to be up at five in the morning to start it all over again. He did this for many years until nineteen seventy-four. Doctor visits increased. Her need for him was constant. It was time to retire. Two years later she passed away at the age of forty-eight.


That day on the lake he was distant. I knew he was time traveling through memories to be with her again, to relive the moments of their youth. Occasionally he would grin, which would disappear with a sigh, and washed away with more black coffee.


“Do you still miss her, Grandpa,” a twelve-year-old me asked that day on the lake.


His eyes watered and he said, “Every day, but sometimes you meet someone who becomes a part of us. When they die, they take pieces of us with them and leave pieces of them behind with us.”


I think his words ring true louder today than ever on the day we gather to lay him to rest. George Herbert Sanders was dedicated, loyal, and caring to one woman his entire life. I believe that speaks volumes for how a man feels about a woman. He expressed himself through actions, being a man of few words. He continued to express himself to her, even though she was gone, until his dying day. I thank you all for letting me share this little story today, because it’s his story, and his story was her.

February 11, 2024 10:55

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

13 comments

Mike Henry
01:31 Feb 22, 2024

A tale of love and courage told with feeling. I enjoyed the read.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Michelle Oliver
15:13 Feb 17, 2024

His is a beautiful tribute to a man who loved one woman his whole life. Your words are evocative and you have captured the essence of this man so well I feel I know him. I loved the description in your opening paragraph.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Ave M
18:38 Feb 16, 2024

The description in this story is incredible. It really paints a picture to the readers. This was a beautiful story and I read it more than once.

Reply

Show 0 replies
L J
17:40 Feb 16, 2024

Very nice! I think this is about your real grandparents since this is nonfiction. Your story honored them . I can tell how much you miss them and what a wonderful respectful legacy they left you. Thanks for taking time to read mine

Reply

Show 0 replies
K.A. Murray-Todd
18:59 Feb 15, 2024

This was a wonderful read. Nicely done!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Trudy Jas
20:55 Feb 13, 2024

What a lovely story. Just beautiful. Thank you.

Reply

Show 0 replies
John Rutherford
07:19 Feb 12, 2024

Great story - chicken soup warmer. Thanks

Reply

Show 0 replies
Kristi Gott
06:34 Feb 12, 2024

Beautiful story about the grandparents and the lifestyle they lived. The details about their appearances conveyed deeper information about their personalities and what they were like as people. The sensory details and descriptive details give me a mental movie and I am very engaged in the story and I feel like I have met them in person. The details show and not just tell. They suggest and are evocative. I enjoyed reading this and it was educational too because I was studying the writing style with admiration. Well done! Inspirational,...

Reply

Ty Warmbrodt
06:45 Feb 12, 2024

Sincerely, thank you for that feedback. I can't tell you how much that means. Thank you for liking :-)

Reply

Kristi Gott
16:45 Feb 12, 2024

You're welcome. The story is a beautiful tribute and honors the wonderful grandparents in the story. There is emotional honesty in the story and the authenticity of the feelings comes through. Well done!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Marty B
05:31 Feb 12, 2024

Great story about what acts of love look like. I liked this line- He had rough hands that time and work had sanded into pumice stone. Thanks!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Mary Bendickson
02:49 Feb 12, 2024

So true to life...and death.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Stella Aurelius
18:21 Feb 11, 2024

This was really beautiful, Ty. What a poignant story you created. The air of melancholy throughout this was amazing. Stunning imagery, as usual.

Reply

Show 0 replies
RBE | We made a writing app for you (photo) | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.