At breakfast this morning my husband Paul and I talked about gardening. I related the story of how my loving grandfather, Ed Hill of Ayden, North Carolina, carefully planted tomatoes for me when I was about 10 years old. I had had a tomato crop the year before, and I had done all the labor myself, but this time my 67-year-old grandfather bent low to the ground and carefully planted a dozen tomato plants for me, sparing me the work.
I was a sensitive child. I understood that my grandfather wanted to do something nice for me, and so I didn’t tell him—ever—that I actually wanted to do all the work myself.
Paul said, “He loved you.”
And I nodded.
My grandfather asked only one thing of me in all my years with him, and he lived to be 92, dying painlessly of pneumonia when I was 36. He said to me every time I left him to return home, “Be sweet!” and he gave me a great big bear hug.
My grandfather was the only family member who never asked me to achieve. My other much-loved family wanted me to make good grades, to develop my talents, to get in a good college, to get a master’s degree—but my grandfather just said, over and over, “Be sweet.”
When Paul and I went through my mother’s house in Zebulon, after she relocated to Oxford, Mississippi (where we live), we found—carefully saved—my grandfather’s wallet. It had his personal papers, including his driver’s license, and so there was no doubt that it was his. It had two other things we discovered—a small picture of me at age 16, a junior in high school; and, tucked away in a secret compartment, a $50 bill.
I like to think that he left that money to me, so that I would never run out of money.
I have that $50 bill still, the very same one. And I have not run out of money.
Looking back, I own a charm bracelet given me by my family about the same time that the picture of me in high school was taken. One charm was paid for by my grandfather—a carefully folded $1 bill in a silver box. My mother always said that that charm from my grandfather was given me so I would always have some money. With inflation, maybe the $1 somewhat needed to be augmented by the $50, now, almost 50 years later.
The money from my grandfather is not important. His constant refrain of “Be sweet!” still echoes in my memory.