Godspeed Grandpa

grandpashirleyYesterday, as the moon had just begun to blot out the sun, my grandfather, O’Neal Shirley, crossed from this world to the next.

He was 89 years old.

He should have left us a few years back, but you see there’s something about my grandfather you may not know — he was the toughest, hardest working, and strongest man you could ever hope to meet.

Death was in for a fight.

Grandpa Shirley had toiled in the fields all his life. He grew up poor in rural Arkansas and struggled to build a life for his family, eventually settling in rural Indiana.

The Shirley surname comes from ancient Saxon, meaning ‘a clear place or pasture’. It was a fitting name for him.

Grandpa was a horseman and farmer and I bailed a lot of hay and cleaned a lot of stalls for that man. He pushed me hard, but pushed himself harder.

I have so many fond memories growing up on that farm as a child. It was hard work, but it was honest, and looking back on it, a lot of fun.

It seemed like every farmer in the area had a “Neal Shirley” story, usually centering around feats of strength or some sort of MacGyver-ish hack for fixing broken down equipment that just sort of came natural to him.

Whether it was of him tossing hay in a field barefooted or fixing a busted belt with bailing twine, the general gist of it all was that he was as tough as nails.

He was a good man. He may never have quite understood me, but that’s okay. He loved me and I him, and that’s what mattered.

My favorite picture of us together is from Converse’s Old Fashioned Days, just a little over 50 years ago, on August 12, 1967. I was 17 months old. He would have been 39.

grandpashirley2

Godspeed, Grandpa. You taught me far more than I think you realized and I love you for it and so much more.

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