Winding roads through thick patches of bright green forest, the hills make my stomach go into my throat and we talk about everything. I’m just six or seven years old and I remember feeling like when he spoke to me, everything he said was true. So deeply true.
He offered this sense of no matter what babe, everything is going to be alright.
He gave me lessons in the art of the turtle rescue. Even when I was unsure – he’d be sitting in the car telling me I’ve got it. We would come home with at least fifteen turtles in the summertime as we made our way through Ohio. He taught me to follow my own lead and to never stop believing in me and my capability.
Belief is something I have always had a hard time with. It started when I was in elementary school and continued through middle and high school. No matter how many people believed in me and my ability to do something spectacular with my writing or interest in science, it made no difference- if I was feeling down on myself.
As I have matured and reluctantly stepped into my thirties, I have come face to face with what it means to believe in something. Whether it is human rights, animal rights, honesty, justice, environmental protection… The belief I hold directly impacts the way I interact with my community and environment. While a singular belief was not the topic of our many long and deep discussions, the idea that believing in something with every ounce of yourself was important – often was.
This seed was planted by a man that was by my side from the day he held my tiny body in his arms. Strong, not much taller than me but his energy and presence made up for his height.
Big round belly, a sweeping duck tail at the base of his neck, and a shiny bald spot at the back of his head. I can picture him moving through the crowd at the Sunday flea market.
If you missed his faded blue jeans, you’d know it was him with one glance at his back pocket and that orange bristle brush handle. This place is where it started, this memory of my first lesson in believing in myself. A very simple task but when he performed it, it would stop anyone in their tracks. The art of negotiation was a delicate one that required belief in the item you were haggling over and how well you could caress the seller’s ego. Watching him create a relationship with a stranger in the span of two or three minutes was something to behold. I imagined him in a black suit with a white button up underneath. His finger pointed in the face of a car salesman that had scammed an old woman and his argument was so incredible, everyone in the court room stood on their feet.
These lessons were not limited to yard sale negotiation – he reminded me throughout the years, just how capable I was of achieving whatever goals I set for myself.
As I transitioned into motherhood at just sixteen, he remained an active participant in supporting my life goals and ambition. Whether it was driving me to school while giving me a pep talk, or long conversations reminding me how lucky I was to be a mother to my boys. One day sticks out in my mind as it was one of my last memories of him. I remember the sound of his feet meeting the wooden floor, the smell of Aqua Net and cologne filling my nostrils, and the obscenities he mumbled as he walked past me.
This day plays on repeat in my mind – still. He was angry with me for the way I was behaving, the constant complaining about being stuck with my kids all day long while the world continued without me. He was the first person I would reach out to when things were hard, he had heard it all and always listened without judgement. Patting my back as he held me in his arms – making me feel like I was powerful and strong.
Knowing that I wasn’t alone gave me enough hope and belief in myself to last until the next time I would break down.
Here I am now, a mother to four children and 2,800 miles away from my family and the home that holds each one of these vivid memories. Gone to California, once a dream bigger than me… Now a reality. I just wish he could see how far he got me – just by believing in me. My grandfather is buried under a large Oak tree. Each time I go home; I sit with him and I tell him just how much I have done, because I believed.