My grandfather, Tolson Cleveland Heatley, died a week ago. I didn't go to the funeral, I wasn't with my family as they dealt with all the things that happen when the patriarch die. I was at home, wondering what to feel and how to express myself.
TC was someone that I didn't know, though he definitely left a mark on me. As a child, my brother and I would go to my grandparents humble home and spend time there exploring their farm, catching bugs, wrestling with my youngest uncle, being kids. His home in the late seventies and early eighties was a place of freedom. We would sit under the small grove of oak trees and shell beans, take naps in the hammock and gather as a family. My mother and her brother and sister would sometimes challenge us to a cow patty fight in the field, in which no one ever wins. I would chase after my brother and uncle, wanting to be able to do what they could do. I would gaze in wonder up at the pear tree that had the most delicious pears and zoom past the plum trees that had tidy little boxes of busy bees between each one. I marveled at my grandfather's hunting dogs, which I was not allowed to pet. I was disgusted by the pig that was in a far piece of the property. I remember collecting eggs from the chickens and counting the baby rabbits in their cage. The cows would always be willing to suck on your finger with their rough tongues. There was so much freedom.
But that freedom had its price, you see, TC was a soldier for the US Navy during World War II, a soldier greatly unknown to me. In so many ways, he is the unknown soldier. I have not had a relationship with him of any kind in the past decade. But I really want to take the good from this man and to let that be his legacy to me. That place of freedom from fear of the world, to explore nature, and to be a child. Those are what he gave to me. And that is the thing that I mourn with his passing. The freedom that he fought for continues today. He cared for our country and he provided freedom for his family as well. And though he was unknown, he was much loved.