There aren’t enough words in the English language for me to describe my Grandpa Turner. He was always larger than life to me.
He was a farm boy who believed in hard work, integrity, excellence, and treating others right. He grew up in western Oklahoma, but roamed around through different small towns in Oklahoma and Texas for several years. He farmed, ran a gas station and grocery store, and built beautiful cabinets. He served in World War II in a map making unit. To the best of my understanding, they went in advance of the troops to see what was there and map it out. I don’t know much about that, though. Grandpa was a master story-teller, but he didn’t talk about the War. He never watched another war movie once he came home; he said he’d had enough of that. Eventually he turned all his efforts to building and opened his company, Turner Construction. He and Grandma, Daddy and the two girls followed a building boom and landed in Moab, Utah, the home of all my childhood memories.
It seems that so many of my memories are tied to Grandpa. Daddy worked for him for several years, and I remember trips to the lumber yard with them, occasional trips to a building site and riding in Grandpa’s Ford pick up truck. Sometimes as we were going on an errand with Daddy, he’d notice Grandpa’s truck there at the Golden Stake Restaurant. “Look girls! Let’s go have a coffee break with Grandpa.” These times were some of the brightest highlights of our childhood. Grandpa generally sat at the counter having coffee with the regulars, so he almost always saw us the second we came in. I’ll never forget how he beamed when he saw us! He always, ALWAYS, said to his fellow counter-mates, “These are my granddaughters! Have you met my granddaughters?” Then he proceeded to treat us to a cinnamon roll as big as our hand and a mug of hot chocolate piled high with extra whipped cream. Food is the language of love, they say, but it was more than that. The look on his face when we walked through that door is forever etched in my being.
Once, after my sister sang a solo at church, Grandpa STOOD UP and bellowed, “THAT’S MY GRANDDAUGHTER!” Oh, how everyone laughed. No one ever doubted how he felt about us.
Grandpa worked hard, long days. He was lean and lanky and burned dark, dark brown from the desert sun. He could never seem to get enough to eat. Grandma prepared big meals every night, but she no more than got the kitchen cleaned up and Grandpa would be rumbling about in the kitchen, looking for “a little snack”. When my sister and I were there, we were delighted with the “little snacks” he would prepare and share with us. Crackers and cheese–always crackers and cheese–and ridiculously thick slices of ring bologna. Our favorite of all was when he made milk shakes for the three of us: milk, ice cream and Hershey’s syrup poured into a tall glass and stirred with a long teaspoon. Ahhh.
He often needed to run to the gas station when we were at his house, and he always invited us along. Momma would take us aside with strict instructions not to ask for anything! Of course, we didn’t need to ask; he never forgot to offer! We always came home with candy and gum. He loved to give us treats. When we went to family reunion, we always knew there would be an evening when we’d go into town and he’d treat us to rides on go karts, the waterslide, our choice of souveniers; whatever our hearts desired.
Grandpa seemed to gather friends effortlessly: from the community, from the little church he helped to build, extended family. Grandma and Grandpa often hosted gatherings, and Grandpa always seemed to be surrounded by a knot of men. They played cards and dominoes and he told stories. Strangely, I don’t recollect many of the actual stories he told, but I remember the laughter! Oh, how he would laugh.
His one claim to fame was that he built several movie sets when different films were made in Moab. When working on the set of The Comancheros, he had breakfast with John Wayne one morning. That was one story he loved to tell.
The last time I saw Grandpa was after I was married and Joe was stationed at Eglin AFB, Florida. We drove out to Oklahoma, where the family had all moved. We knew then that the cancer was going to win. The lifelong cigarette smoking stole many years from him–many years from us. After our visit, as we hugged and said goodbye, Grandpa pressed some folded bills into Joe’s hand. “Gas money”, he said, and he would not be denied. Once we got in the car, we realized he’d given us $100.00. How appropriate that my final memory of Grandpa is of him giving and taking care of me.
Grandpa wasn’t famous. He never wrote a book or held public office. He didn’t leave an estate or really much of anything.
But the lumber yard is sacred to me now. The sight of a flat, wide, red carpenter’s pencil or the scent of fresh sawdust brings tears to my eyes. I’ve been known to find the raw lumber, close my eyes and inhale deeply. To me, it smells like love.
My Grandpa left us twenty-five years ago. TWENTY-FIVE years, and I still miss him every day.
That’s what I call a legacy.