From an article originally posted November 11, 2013…
I miss one veteran today. One handsome, larger than life, lover of my heart, veteran named Homer Lakes. With a name like Homer, no middle name is necessary. My heart hurts at his lonely state, days spent in a nursing home, quiet and lonely. I wonder if the workers in the shift change have any idea how special this man is? Do people listen to his tall tales, do they know his generous heart?
He taught me to take the skin off the catfish I caught. We stood by the stump and he taught me the messy work of cleaning my proud catch. He caught my eye, he asked me to love his farm, which I did. He asked me to keep it, which I couldn’t. The opportunity slipped through my fingers and my heart hurt at the loss of the happiest place of my heart. It was his happy place, it was mine too. My family and I hurt knowing the man of such towering strength is living in the shift change of paid employees. It hurts to see him away from his heart, his home, his realm.
I remember him curled up in front of the fire on the floor, a huge pillow curled under his head as he blared the news from the TV. The safe, comfortable feeling being next to him followed me throughout my life. He went to bed every night listening to baseball loud on his bedside radio, a lifelong Cincinnati fan.
Grandpa Homer loved yard sales as much as grandma and I, and he had an affinity to buying platters.
There were stacks of them hiding in corners of closets. He taught me to make his potato salad which was awesome, but only could be made two gallons at a time. He was generous with us, always had coke and pudding pops on hand for his favorite three grandbabies.
To hear him tell a story was to know a belly laugh was coming. We knew they weren’t true, we didn’t care. My favorite was him telling of shooting snakes jumping in his boat with his kid brother Bobby. Or the time the scorpion jumped in his overalls. He threw them off and was left naked in the middle of the garden, brothers and sisters falling in a fit of giggles; they are still laughing 50 years later.
He was a union man, a straight-line democrat, a gatherer of people, and embracer of family. I was always so proud of how handsome and fiercely loving my grandpa was. Sweater vests and cowboy hats, he was always a dandy. Mom always bought him clothes that he proudly wore. He kissed with hard lips, always wore tank top undershirts and had a smell all his own—aftershave, barn, and hard work.
We always played musical beds at my grandparents’ house. Grandpa was a cuddler. Jonna and Dennis always had me sleep with him. I would wake under the heavy weight of his arms. I remember his strong forearm tattooed while in the service, green and blurry. His forearms were strong, beautiful pictures of years of hard work. One eagle, one tribute to his mama, those arms loved me well through my entire childhood. I remember once coming in the room of my grandparents to check on grandma. There she was, tiny, diminutive curled up in the heavy embrace of her love. She was absolutely dwarfed, unbelievably content.
Grandpa was always handsome and proud. His hair was always perfectly combed, he would sneak my grandmas Red Door perfume. He loved it and they fussed over it. We would gift the big bottles to them. Grandma and Grandpa loved each other. They struggled, not simple struggles, big heart wrenching hard, but they stayed. As I grew, I learned the hard truths of their hard fight for marriage, and I deeply respect their journey through hard.
I remember driving to reunions with Grandpa. His driving made me nauseous. His foot was never steady, fast, then slow, fast again, slow. He loved the big beasts of cars, Cadillac, Mercury, Buick, it was like being set to a nauseous sea of driving, but time with him was worth the nausea. One year mom joined us. Dad was struggling, underemployed. Mom finally revealed our struggle. Without hesitation, Grandpa gave us the car we were driving in to Kentucky. Without hesitation. He often gave up comfort for others.
At 85, Grandpa gave his heart to Jesus. It was the prayer of my dear grandma’s heart, a prayer of my heart. My dear Uncle Jimmy shared Jesus with Grandpa, prayed with Grandpa, rejoiced with Grandpa. Grandma had a fall, a stroke, the loop of questions that came to my grandma. I wanted her heart to know her years of staying through the hard, her years of praying, of loving, that Jesus was faithful to save, to draw, to call the love of her life. That she would be joined by her dear Homer in eternity. Sadly, I think she will find out on the other side. She will one day be happily greeted by her love.
Jason was the one to decide what we named our son. I had named the girls, but Jason knew my heart. He knew what Homer Lakes was to me. Jason returned to my room after having dinner and told me our son’s name. I was so loved in that moment.
Grandpa, I miss you. Sickness has made travel to your bedside difficult. Forgive me. I long to return to you a small portion of the love you filled my heart with my whole life. I’m richer for knowing you. God bless you this day, Grandpa. Thank you for your service to our country and thank you for your larger than life, fierce, amazing love that gave me a childhood of beauty, wonder and great joy.
This gift turned 90 when I was knee deep in surgery and appointments. I missed his day, but today I honor him. I can’t wait to see you again Grandpa Homer in this place or the next.