Yesterday I said goodbye to the greatest man I’ve ever known.
My incredible granddad died unexpectedly last Friday at the age of 84. And left me shell shocked. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that my last blog post was about my love for him. If I had only known at that Easter lunch that that would be the last time I’d see him alive, I would’ve stayed for days. But instead I’m left aching to hear more of his stories. Stories that will now never be told.
My grandfather was my rock. He was one of the greatest men in the greatest generation our country has ever seen. He lived and breathed integrity. He was gentle, yet commanding. Respectful, yet vivacious. Mirthful, yet deep. He’s been the best example, the best champion, and the best friend a girl could ever hope to have.
As funerals go, his was…nice. Over 500 people came to pay their respects which was powerful to see, to know that he’d touched that many individual lives. Unfortunately, I spent the entire time feeling as if I was trapped in a fishbowl. All I wanted to do was lie in my high school bed and sob like a little girl, but I dutifully shouldered my responsibility as his oldest grandchild and welcomed his guests. I received countless hugs from virtual strangers and tried to ignore their curious stares. As if I was a battered car wreck victim being hauled into an ambulance on the side of an interstate instead of a heartbroken young woman who’s entire world had shifted overnight.
But this story isn’t all sad. Whatever your beliefs are concerning an afterlife, the strangest thing happened to me on the way to his funeral. Something that lifted me up and forever tinged my memory of him with wonder.
I left Nashville Monday morning in a cloud of misery and dread. I knew that as soon as I arrived home, his death would fade from being dreamlike into stark reality. About 45 minutes into my trip, one of my tires blew out on the interstate. I have no idea how, but I managed to guide my car to the shoulder without hitting anyone.
I sat stunned on the side of the road for a few moments and then laid my head on the steering wheel and sobbed. I couldn’t believe that such shitty luck happened on that particular day.
Just when I’d managed to pull myself together and had started out on my hike to the nearest gas station, an older man pulled up behind me in a giant moving truck.
I’m sure I looked a mess—helpless, windblown and tear-streaked. But he gave me a kind smile and in an almost unintelligible stutter, asked if he could be of assistance. I resisted the urge to throw my arms around him and simply asked if he could help me change my tire. Because I already felt like the most pitiful thing in the world, I refrained from telling him where I was headed…
In no time flat (ha!) he got me back on the road. I burbled my gratitude and offered to compensate him for his efforts, but he just smiled. As he climbed into the cab of his truck, his stutter fell away and he said clear as day, “just consider me your guardian granddad”. And with a wink, he drove away.
I stood on the side of the road in silence as a chill crept up my spine. Then I threw my head back and laughed. Coincidence or no, it was perfect. It made me feel both exhilarated and protected, just like I did as a little girl when he would toss me into the air and then catch me in his strong arms.
Robert Clay Evans, you will be missed. Missed in a way that aches and forever feels empty. But in subtle ways, your spirit still lives on. It lives on in good samaritans willing to help the helpless. It lives on in your surviving family members who will tell your priceless stories for generations to come.
It lives on in your oldest granddaughter’s heart as she continues to be your biggest fan.