What I Remember Most About Granddad

My Granddad, or as my kids called him “Papa,” died last month. He passed away the way most of us hope to die – He’d just celebrated his 96th birthday on July 15th, 2018 with most of his family (My sister and I were even in from California.), and then he passed away in his sleep a few weeks later on August 1, 2018. My family will honor him with a funeral in October. In the meantime, I have a few things I want to put down on paper (or rather online) for my own sake, but moreover, for my children, so they can remember him the way I do.

Granddad’s 96th Birthday

1. He was a wonderful storyteller.

In case you didn’t know, my mother is a professional storyteller, and it’s no wonder . . . Her father, my Granddad, had the best voice and knew how to tell a great story. Whether he was sharing an actual event from his own life adventures (and he had many) or reading a poem like James Whitcomb Riley’s “Little Orphant Annie,” we could all listen to his voice for hours. Just by reading the words of that poem, I can practically hear his voice. (It’s a great poem to tell around Halloween time.) Here’s just a taste . . .

“Little Orphant Annie’s come to our house to stay,
An’ wash the cups an’ saucers up, an’ brush the crumbs away,
An’ shoo the chickens off the porch, an’ dust the hearth, an’ sweep,
An’ make the fire, an’ bake the bread, an’ earn her board-an’-keep;
An’ all us other children, when the supper-things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an’ has the mostest fun
A-list’nin’ to the witch-tales ‘at Annie tells about,
An’ the Gobble-uns ‘at gits you
Ef you
Don’t
Watch
Out!”

Granddad’s tone, expressiveness, and passion won his audience over every time. He even produced his own daily radio programs under the pseudonym of Gil Bryan; “A Time To Remember” and “A Thought For Today,” which were broadcast in 39 states and Canada.

Granddad with his first Great-Grandson (my son, Landon)

2. He was an American Hero.

Granddad, also known well as “Bud,” is always the first person to pop into my head when I think of those who have served our country. Maybe it’s because of the stories he shared over the years, including the bullet that almost shaved off a piece of his ear in World War II, or the fact that he was an agent in the Army Counter Intelligence Corp, which ultimately sounds so much cooler than the rest of the military. Most likely it’s probably because he’s my Granddad, and I loved him.

Bryant W. Gillespie III, World War II veteran

3. He had a excellent memory.

Even up until the end, he always remembered me, my husband, and my kids. I’m sure it’s partly because my mom probably talked his ear off about us, but I was always impressed by his memory. Fortunately for the family, he wrote and self-published a life memoir about 15 years back. It’s also called “A Time To Remember.” I’ve been rereading it since his death and am grateful for all the details he included and again, amazed by all the stories he seemed to have remembered so vividly. I’m not sure I’ll ever be up for writing a memoir, but for similar reasons, I’m really glad that I’ve started this blog – so that my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren can read about my life and those I loved most.

My Granddad’s memoir, “A Time To Remember”

4. He was the quintessential Grandfather.

In other words, he was adorable. Seriously, if you were to cast someone as a Grandfather in a movie, it would be Bryant W. Gillespie. He knew what to say to make you smile and even had some jokes up until the end. My kids were fascinated by him .  .  . especially Liam. This past year, Liam (currently 4-years-old) was constantly asking if we could call “Papa.” And honestly, we would have but the one thing Granddad had lost a lot of was his hearing, and even with hearing aids it was sometimes a struggle to hear. And yes, Liam knows that Granddad is no longer here. He was definitely the most upset by it, which breaks my heart. I am most grateful that they all, including Kiera, had a chance to meet him.

Liam with Granddad, the last time we were all with him.

5. He was grateful and content.

Yes, I’m taking words from his own mouth. His autobiography concluded with the line, “It has been a great adventure, I am grateful and I am content.” In his final years, Granddad was in an assisted living home, and whether it was me popping in a few times a year or my mom popping in a few times a week, he was always so incredibly grateful to see us. “Oh Sara!” he would say, as if it was Christmas morning. You knew just from the inflection in his voice how much he appreciated seeing us, even if it meant he could only keep his eyes open for a few moments.

My Granddad had great adventures worthy of storytelling for years to come. He was passionate about his work. He married the love of his life and had 4 amazing children, 10 grandchildren (of which I’m the oldest), and 5 great-grandchildren. It’s no wonder he was content.

If there is anything I hope to inherit from my grandfather, it’s this feeling of “contentment.” With the way the world is today, from the distractions of social media to the expectation of instant gratification, I think most of us have no idea of what it feels like to just be content, and I suspect some of us are even afraid of feeling that way – as if feeling content means you’ve given up on wanting more. By definition, being content means you are in a state of peaceful happiness . . . I can’t imagine anything better, can you?

There are so many more memories I’d love to share, but the one that resonates with me most is this . . . I can’t remember who told me to do this, but it’s become my #1 piece of advice for brides on their wedding day. “Pinch yourself in the moments you want to remember most.” I’m sure there were several times I pinched myself on my wedding day – from my dad walking me down the aisle to walking into my reception with “Welcome to the Jungle” playing, but the moment I specifically remember pinching myself was when I was slow dancing with my Granddad. He was happy. I was happier. We were both grateful. We were both content.

Dancing with Granddad on my wedding day

6 comments | Add Your Own

  1. Genie Reiman says:

    Sara, Thanks for posting this. I loved my Uncle Bud so much and also have great memories of his humor, his storytelling and love for his family. Growing up our visits with the Gillespies were some of my favorite childhood memories.

  2. Emily Johnson says:

    Love your words, Sara! He was an unforgettable man who left his mark on the world in many ways.

  3. Marci Konecny says:

    What an amazing life and an even more amazing man. Thank you for sharing this.

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