There are certain things that a man has stored in the farthest reaches of his mind and heart. Things that shape who he has become. Moments, captured only in the mind and emotions that aren’t always in the forefront but can never be forgotten. When they come to visit it’s like a long lost friend that you haven’t seen in decades coming to give you a warm embrace and tell you that those were great days. I have a wealth of these and most of them, even though I’ve never said them to anyone, involve you.
I know I have said things in the last 5 years or so that have hurt you, offended you, and made you feel things about me that I never wished. I want you to know that I am truly sorry for those things and I pray and hope that you can forgive me. The reason I am writing this to you is because even though there are tough things we’ve been through together and there are times when I’ve really hurt you, I really want you to know how much you mean to me. I want you to know how much I respect you for taking me in and raising me at a time in your life when you had already been there and done that 4 times over. I can honestly say that I would not be the person I am today without you and I love you and am thankful for that everyday.
I really don’t know how to do this so I’m just going to write all of these “moments and memories” down and I hope that as you read them … they mean as much to you as they do to me.
The Magic Kingdom
I remember the excitement as we pulled into the huge parking lot. I didn't know what my little eyes were going to see on that day but I knew that you were making it seem like this was going to be the best day of my life. You were right! Walking up to the entrance of that magical kingdom I could feel my heart getting so big that it was about to explode! As I rode on your shoulders I couldn’t believe what my eyes were seeing. Stepping into the Monorail train car for the first time holding your hand ( which you called “Booger” by the way )… seeing Mickey, Goofy, Donald, and the Locomotive that went around the park! Riding it’s a small world, eating the ice-cream and drinking the novelty juice that came in a plastic souvenir … it was all part of one of the best days of my life at that young age and I have you to thank for that. You even told me later recalling that magical day that someone at the park called me a midget because I carried on conversation like an adult. It’s a day I’ll never forget and I’m so glad that it was you holding my hand and showing me how truly big and amazing the world could be at such a small age.
The Capital City, The Statue, and The Big Apple.
Most kids born in the south can only dream of experiencing some things in real life… things that most other kids would have to see on TV or read about in their school books. Fortunately for me … I wasn’t an ordinary, run of the mill southern boy… nope … I was a Hardie boy …. and that meant I got to go places with my Grandfather like Washington DC, and New York City! There are too many amazing memories, sites, and sounds from this trip so I’ll just cut to the most memorable. You and I had taken the ferry to Liberty Island and upon approach I absolutely could not believe what I was seeing. Even though she was green, she was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Once disembarked from the ferry I don’t think I ever looked down at the ground one time. Holding your hand, my eyes were glued to that marvelous statue, that copper giant. I remember asking you over and over again if we could go to the top? To my amazement, that’s exactly where you took me! We went so high up I could feel the wind about to blow us right up her skirt!
I couldn’t see anything because at that point I was knee-high to a grasshopper so you did what some would consider child endangerment these days …. I considered it awesome You picked me up and sat me right on the ledge! I felt like I could see the world from up there and I remember at that moment feeling like as long as I was with you I could do, see and experience anything I wanted in life. That’s the thing about you, you opened my eyes to a fantastical world full of beauty and wonder and told me it could all be mine if I wanted it. Our date that brisk day in the city with Lady Liberty is a moment I’ll never forget and even now makes me have chills when I think about my first glimpse of her as you held me in your arms on the deck of that ferry. To top it all off, you bought me a torch flashlight souvenir, just like the one she was holding! I kept that thing on me at all times after that. I can still see it… feel it in my hands, and I can even remember the smell of that wonderful little plastic flame. All thanks to you… My PawPaw!
My Welcome to the World Gift
Unless you are Royalty, a Celebrity, or was born with gold running through your veins, you don’t get a classic car given to you just for being born…. unless of course you have a grandfather like mine. I’ll always have pride in my heart knowing that you did that for me. I always felt like I was royalty when I was a child and when I was around you, I was a prince ….grandson of King Hardie, Ralph Summerlin Hardie to be exact. Every time I would walk through the garage at hickory hills and see that stallion I knew you loved me and wanted the very best the world had to offer for me. I would always walk past it in admiration of it’s beauty …. would ALWAYS want to open the door and get inside, and every time I was allowed to do so I would marvel at the craftsmanship and the smell of that leather interior… Oh that smell! Even though I was never able to drive it and show it off to all my friends when I was a teenager, I always and still to this day carry it in my heart, knowing that you are the one who gave me that amazing gift, just for being born into this world.
The King and His Castle
I always felt like I was a prince when I was around you. If you were the King and I was a prince that would make 542 Hickory Hills Drive in Stone Mountain Georgia the Castle. She was a magnificent castle. Never before and probably never again will I ever step foot into a home like that. It felt like it was a living and breathing organism. The circular driveway was the mote that protected the castle, the walkways from the driveway to the path that led to the front door were perfectly placed and the fountain was always a welcoming sound that let you know, you are safe, you are loved, and you are home. You are the reason the castle was amazing… you worked countless hours on her. Keeping her looking prestigious inside and out.
When I came to live with you after Mom and Dad’s divorce I knew …. This is my home. It’s my castle now as well and I will always find shelter, safety, and love living inside it with the King and His Queen. Boy did I! The most fond memories I have in my entire life were spent in the Castle. I would always want to bring friends inside her walls and I never wanted to leave. That home was a part of the family, it didn’t matter whether she was blue or green on the outside, she was beautiful to me.
If I close my eyes right now I can instantly be transported back to the castle. Every square inch of that house I have burned into my memory and I long to be back there. I often find myself re-living the precious times, meals, laughter, and alone time I would get to spend with you and your beautiful Queen Agnes.
If I could live anywhere in the world, it would be back in that home. The Castle that stood at the end of Hickory Hills.
16th Birthday Surprise
You have always been keen on getting one over on me. Most of the time I would be able to see straight through your clever schemes and stories but not this day.
You knew that my 16th birthday was the day I had been looking forward to my entire life. The day that I would legally be able to drive a car! What most wouldn’t have known by looking at me was that I already knew how to drive. You see, years before that day in November, I had been taught how to drive by my Aunt Lane. She would put me on her knee before I could reach the pedals and let me steer those Oldsmobiles back to the Castle. Eventually I outgrew her knee. It’s then that she trusted me to take the helm all by myself and steer us to our destination. After Aunt Lane taught me everything she could, she knew I was ready to take the wheel by myself. Knowing she had taught me well, you started taking me out to back roads in the country and letting me drive you around. You taught me the importance of using my mirrors and how to use them correctly and still to this day I have impeccable driving skills thanks to Aunt Lane and my PawPaw. Now, back to my 16th birthday:
You picked me up from school that day and said you were going to take me over to the Oldsmobile dealership because you had some connections over there that could help me get a used car. I was bursting with excitement on the inside but I also felt a sinking feeling in my stomach because… we were going to an Oldsmobile dealership. Everyone knew that only old people drove Oldsmobiles, at least that’s what all my friends thought and therefore that’s what I though. After all, I had my mind set for months on my dream car. A beautiful, sporty, Ford Probe GT.
We pulled into the dealership off of Memorial Drive and MawMaw was waiting for us. I went up and gave her a hug and kiss and she told me ‘happy birthday’ with that sweet, loving voice. She told me, go with PawPaw now and look at some cars. OK! Here we go! So you calmly walked me down every row of cars they had at that lot and overtime we would pass a new model you would ask me,”What do you think of that”? My answer would always be the same… “It’s nice”, said with a kind of half smirk on my face and a sinking disposition because this was becoming all too real. I was going to be the only person I knew my age that was going to be driving an Oldsmobile. I was trying to balance excitement and disappointment together without giving off the impression of the latter.
After walking every square inch of that lot, you asked me so did you see something you liked? I said, well … “They're all nice, why don’t you pick?” I really had no preference if I was going to be given an Oldsmobile, they were all the same to me, anyway so I’d resolved in my mind that I would be happy with any of them. It was then that you said ok, let’s go in the showroom and talk to a salesman. So off we went to the very nice, air conditioned, stone floored, glass walled showroom.
We entered through the side door and began making our way over to one of the salesmen’s offices. You told me, “wait right here while I go get someone”, I obliged. After you turned the corner and out of site I began looking around the showroom floor. It was filled with Oldsmobile’s latest and greatest cars with their hoods up and windows down. My eyes glanced them over all of them one by one until I had reached the last one. It was then that I saw something that was not like the others. I saw the front end of a car that looked nothing like an Oldsmobile… “what is that” I wondered.
I made my way over to the other end of the showroom and when I turned the corner I couldn’t believe my eyes! I was thoroughly confused by what I was witnessing and my mind just couldn’t make sense of it. I knew I was standing in an Oldsmobile showroom, so why then did I see before me the most beautiful car I’d ever seen, just sitting there. She was the most shiny black I’d ever laid my eyes on, so shiny in fact that I could see my reflection in her paint. The tires were glossy, the curves were breathtaking and as I peeked my head into the driver’s side window, that smell was intoxicating! I still couldn’t figure out why a Ford Probe was sitting in that Oldsmobile showroom. It was at that moment I heard your voice say in my ear, “you like that one?” I was so utterly amazed and confused that I probably sounded like a babbling idiot when I turned and said “uh… yes I do”. You looked at me with that serious face and said, “why don’t you take a closer look, open the door and sit down”. I nervously approached that black beauty and opened the door and got in. I was in love! I had never seen such beauty before, I was actually sitting in my dream car and it just felt right! After being overcome with emotion I opened the door and got out, all the while not ever taking my eyes off her. You asked me if I liked it again and all I could do was nod up and down with wide eyes and an open mouth. It was at that that moment that you told me that the salesman had something he wanted to give me. I turned around and the man extended his hand with a Ford key. He said, “I believe this belongs to you.” In utter shock I reached out my hand and grasped that little piece of metal and plastic. Peeling my eyes off of the car for the first time I saw you and MawMaw with your arms around each other and with larger than life smiles you yelled “Happy Birthday!” The whole dealership stood up and began clapping and cheering. I almost fainted.
I just could not believe what just happened. Before taking her out for a spin you and MawMaw came over and hugged me and told me that you loved me and you wanted to make my dream come true. Not only did I get the biggest surprise of my life, I also knew that you cared more for me than anyone and that this whole elaborate plan was just your amazing way of telling me you loved me and that you wanted everyone to know.
It’s a day I’ll never forget and another moment in which you made a huge impact on my life.
Too many to count
There are truly too many memories and moments to count. You have poured into me, taught me how to be a dreamer, taught me how to give and love generously, how to respect other people, and how literally anything is possible if, as you you’ve told me a thousand times, “if you’ll put your mind to it.” All of this wisdom is evident in my life. I’ve been to places, seen things, had crazy experiences, met people, seen several dreams of mine become reality and live a life of adventure that most only dream of… and it’s all because of you.
I know recent years have separated us and we have been far apart, but that doesn’t mean that you are not in my mind and my heart every day. I thank God for you and what you’ve done for me, how you’ve loved me deeply, and took me in as a son. Anything I’ve accomplished in this life, I owe to you and MawMaw and I am forever grateful. You are the greatest Grandfather anyone could every have and I am so incredibly blessed that it’s me that get’s to have you!
I love you,
You’re Grandson, Brandon.